SNOW HILL — With continued funding still an uncertainty, educators behind this year’s After School Academies briefed the Worcester County Board of Education last week on recent successes and the importance of the programs.
While academies vary by school, there is a county-wide focus on the fields of Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics (STEM). There is also an equal interest in helping struggling students keep pace with their peers, as evidenced by Snow Hill Middle School’s (SHMS) Young Men United program.
“It’s something we sort of brainstormed and made fit for us at Snow Hill Middle,” said Principal Dr. Aaron Dale.
Entering its second year, the Young Men United program offers a host of educational and sports activates as well as field trips. This year the group will head to Salisbury University to examine the link between education and careers. In its first year, the program also sponsored a basketball team for students, with eligibility for the team dependent upon maintaining good grades and staying out of trouble.
Starting this year, Dale told the board that Young Men United will be adding a soccer club, also contingent upon students performing well in school. The incentives and support of Young Men United has already shown significant results, according to Dale.
“We’ve seen leaders emerge within the class,” he said, adding that teachers are also “really buying into this program.”
Dale described the pace the new program moved at last year as “a crawl” with Young Men United “walking” this year. He said that office referrals among group members are down significantly since prior to the program. Honor roll acceptance among Young Men United students is also on the rise with 14 of the 50 members last year receiving no grades below a C. Finally, tardy and absence numbers are down as well.
Board of Education member Bob Hulburd complimented Dale and SHMS on the strides made through Young Men United and acknowledged that boys sometimes have a harder time adjusting to an academic environment than girls.
“Some young men kind of get left behind,” Hulburd said.
Dale noted that while this may be accurate many girls have also started to express interest in Young Men United now that a soccer club has been added. After the success of last year and the strong start this fall, Dale told the board that the plan is to keep growing.
“And then we’re going to continue to expand it each year,” he promised.
Other schools have also had noteworthy showings with their own academies and programs.
At Stephen Decatur Middle School (SDMS), Sweet Baking is one academy where a traditional home economics style club is receiving a STEM-based update. An emphasis on reading, math, and science concepts has been incorporated into the baking class and students like seventh grader Jessica Bennett say that Sweet Baking is more than just learning to use an oven.
“Baking is fun, and I am thinking about becoming a chef,” said Bennett. “For baking, you need to be able to read and follow directions, measure ingredients, and understand temperatures and timing.”
Other academies at county schools include Geometer’s Sketchpad Place, Lego Robotics, “Podcasting” web design, “Author, Author” creative writing, and Aviation School for model planes.
All of the academies are proving popular among students and parents, according to officials.
“Last year, 85 percent of our student body participated in at least one of the four After-School Academy sessions offered throughout the school year,” explained Jane Chisholm, Extended School Program Administrator at Pocomoke Middle School.
SHMS achieved 73 percent participation while SDMS had 60 percent.
High school academies are not traditionally as well attended as those at the middle school level. However, Worcester’s numbers in that category are still substantial and even after that group is factored in, roughly 39 percent, or 2,600 county total students, participated in at least one ASA.
Despite the popularity of the programs the Board of Summer learned last summer that the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) chose not to renew two ASA grants that provided funding for programs at Pocomoke, Snow Hill, and Stephen Decatur Middle Schools as well as for the fourth grade academies at Buckingham Elementary School.
The MSDE funding represented about $638,000, money that the school system has been scrambling to make up for. A recent inter-budget funding transfer this fall has given ASA some breathing room while additional grant money can be sought for the second half of this school year and beyond.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson commented on the importance of the programs last week, citing the specific positive impact to sixth through eighth graders who tend to be at an important educational development stage.
“The middle school years are pivotal years for helping students connect personal interests and their passion for learning with possible career pathways,” said Wilson. “Our job as educators is to provide meaningful and rigorous coursework to prepare our students for post-secondary education, thus advancing their inevitable pursuit of a successful career in a global workforce. This is what is meant by a world-class education, and our ASA programs significantly contribute to that mission.”