Free after-school programs are coming to three Scottsdale district schools this fall.
The Scottsdale Unified School District was recently awarded three 21st Century grants, a federal program that will give the district about $1.4 million over the next five years to offer academic enrichment programs at Tavan and Hohokam elementary schools and Supai Middle School.
The grant is meant for schools that either have a high percentage of low-income students or are underperforming, said Karen Hearn, director of the district's Community Schools department, which runs after-school programs. Tavan, Hohokam and Supai aren't failing, but they do fit the low-income criteria and none has reached excelling status, the state's top academic label.
This is the first free after-school program the district has been able to offer, Hearn said.
"All our programs are tuition-based, and there's a lot of need out there for parents who can't afford what we charge for after-school activities," Hearn said.
These programs will be more focused on academics than other after-school sessions, Hearn said. That's partially because the district has to document improvement in students' academics, attendance or behavior to keep the grant.
Certified teachers will make up most of the staff, Hearn said. They'll identify which areas each child struggles with and plan activities accordingly.
So if a child struggles in reading, he might go to a half-hour computer class that focuses on reading instruction followed by a drama club that presents reading concepts in a different way, said Dawn Ewan Thompson, Supai principal.
Parents will also have the chance to take classes in things like English language instruction and helping students make the transition from elementary to middle school, Thompson said.
Thompson, who moved to Scottsdale over the summer from Orlando, Fla., said the grant was wonderful for her former school in Florida. She saw better attendance, behavior and reading performance in students who participated.
It also gave teachers a chance to bond with small groups of students in a more relaxed environment than a typical classroom, Thompson said.
"I saw huge growth in the relationships that were built between students, faculty and staff," Thompson said. "Teachers are afforded the luxury of seeing students in a different light."
The programs are open to every student at the schools, but the district expects to have 100 participants from each elementary school and 80 from Supai. Hearn said she hopes to get the programs started by October.