BES Invites Parents To See After-School Academy Programs

BERLIN — Through the use of interactive technology and devices meant to make abstract concepts easier to understand, Buckingham Elementary School (BES) is taking a hands-on approach to After-School Academies (ASAs).

As part of National Light on Afterschool month, BES showcased its academies to the media and parents this week. During the event, parents were able to sit and participate with second-, third- and fourth-grade reading and math after-school programs. While each academy varies in what lesson they’re working on, especially across grade levels, BES Afterschool Coordinator Terry Smith underlined a common thread of utilizing technology and keeping students engaged.

“It’s all about the interactive activities,” said Smith.

Each of the academies used a “smart board” during their lesson, whether the subject was math or reading related. Smith explained that the smart boards are jack-of-all-trades teaching devices that combine the versatility of a chalkboard with the interaction of a touch screen.

“Kids love it,” she said.

While smart boards have begun to show up in Worcester County over the last few years, the devices still seem like science fiction to many, even teachers, according to Smith. However, once installed in a classroom, she confirmed that both faculty and students took to the boards with gusto and are now as comfortable using the devices as they are chalk and blackboard.

BES currently has 25 smart boards available for every grade except pre-kindergarten.

A little bit more low-tech but still effective, parents were able to observe students using Digi-blocks, plastic rectangles that help teach students place values and the idea of remainders, an abstract mathematical concept that Smith said many students struggle to put into practical terms. By using the Digi-blocks as a physical representation, fourth grade teacher Michael Booth said that many of his students are easily able to grasp a traditionally difficult subject.

“The Digi-blocks help them understand,” he stated.

While the main purpose of the academies is to promote math, reading and science skills, they are also in place to provide “enrichment.”

According to Smith, this can be anything from learning about wildlife through junior park ranger programs to playing sports. Though with sports, she added that students are still being taught about things like statistics and fractions as they play.

Even with new technology and fun activities in the mix, the end goal of ASAs is to create a passion for learning, something Smith said is evident from academy students’ high test scores. Parents agree, with 90 percent surveyed believing that ASA have helped improve their child’s grades, a 10-percent increase from 2008. The numbers were similar for students and teachers, with 89 percent of students believing the academies have helped their grades and 85 percent of teachers believing the same. Those totals are up 16 and 7 percent, respectfully, from 2008.

The programs have also helped BES close its African-American achievement gap, a national problem that schools across the country struggle with every year.

Like many ASA programs in Worcester, funding for the BES fourth grade academies became imperiled this year when expected grants from the Maryland State Department of Education were mysteriously not renewed.

In order to instill a sense of how necessary funding is, be it state or local, Smith said that she will showcase the academies to parents again in November and will ask county officials to come observe as well.