On a recent Tuesday afternoon a group of students at Sanders Clyde Creative Arts School huddled over a shaved ice machine as they learned about how to make the cold sweet treat. But the elementary school students weren’t just looking to have a tasty snack, they were about to hold the grand opening of their mini business.
Down the hall, students smiled with joy as their hands methodically pelted out a rhythmic beat on African drums. Outside students were gathered around a 12-foot skiff, discussing the final steps in building the small wooden boat.
And in a kindergarten class for 4-year-olds, Laurenn Bromell worked with the small children on learning their alphabet by correlating the sound each letter makes with its hand symbol in sign language.
“Throw your B’s up, throw your B’s up!” the children shouted, before making the “buh” sound and yelling “B!”
Those are just some of the unique learning opportunities students at the high-poverty school are getting this year as part of an extended-day program. The school district, in partnership with the nonprofit Charleston Promise Neighborhood, piloted an extended school day at Sanders Clyde this school year, with students staying an extra 2½ hours a day.
Of the school’s 516 students, only 21 opted out of the longer day, which is offered at no cost to the children. Students get an extra meal, homework help, additional academic activities and extracurricular activities five days a week. The idea is that by providing students with extra support, both academically and creatively, the district can help boost student performance.
Jermaine Joyner, interim principal for Sanders Clyde, said students from low-income families often don’t have the benefit of being exposed to new things outside of school. Programs offered through the longer day offer students experiences such as learning about entrepreneurship in the Corpus Callosum program or interviewing elected officials as a Backpack Journalist.
Those experiences, Joyner said, can help fill in a student’s understanding in the classroom. “It’s not a foreign concept anymore,” Joyner said. “Now it’s a reality.”
Danielle Daniels, who coordinates both the Kaleidoscope and extended-learning programs at Sanders Clyde, said students get homework help, tutoring or extra academic activities every day. Some students might play academic games on iPads to reinforce what they did in class or they might do an extra lesson to get more practice, such as what Bromell has her students do.
Students also get an hour of enrichment where they get to participate in a variety of different activities such as karate, African drumming and boat-building.
Bromell, who works through the school district’s after-school program called Kaleidoscope, said her approach using sign language for each letter of the alphabet along with a rhythmic chant for each letter has helped the children better connect letters visually with the sounds they make. “I don’t have to show them,” Bromell said. “They know all their letters now.”
Prentice Brower, executive director of the Lowcountry Maritime Society, said working with students to build a skiff has helped them connect math, such as measurements, to something practical like having the correctly sized plank for their boat.
Fifth-graders La’Corea Watkins and Amahree Edwards said they were initially unsure about the idea of getting in a boat. But now as they near the end of the project, they’re looking forward to taking a ride in their creation. “I know it’s going to be safe,” Watkins said.
And third-grade students in the Corpus Callosum entrepreneurship program said they were looking forward to seeing how well their shaved ice treats sell.
Associate Superintendent LaTisha Vaughn-Brandon, who oversees Sanders Clyde and three other schools that are assisted through Charleston Promise Neighborhood, said that by closing the opportunity gap for students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to new experiences or academic help outside of school, the hope is that students will have better academic results.
“The enrichment helps make the academic connections,” Vaughn-Brandon said.
Vaughn-Brandon will work with the district to launch a smaller-scale version of the extended-day elementary school program at Chicora School of Communications in the fall through grant funding. And the school district is also looking to add another three schools for a similar pilot next school year that would offer more structured academic support and targeted enrichment activities.
Jason Sakran, director of extended learning and community education for the Charleston County School District, said he hopes to implement aspects of the extended-day model for the district’s entire after-school program.
The idea is to have site coordinators work with principals and teachers daily to find out what kind of academic support students may need and then develop a plan to address those needs after school. Sakran also hopes to better streamline enrichment activities, like karate or computer programming, offered at each school so that those opportunities are more consistent across the district.
The biggest challenge to growing extended-day programs to more low-income schools — or even maintaining it at Sanders Clyde — is the cost. Vaughn-Brandon said it cost more than $300,000 to fund the extended day program at Sanders Clyde this school year, which Charleston Promise Neighborhood covers through grants and donations. Doing it at more schools would cost millions, she said.
“We’ve got to figure out the right funding model to support the work,” Vaughn-Brandon said.
Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546 or on Twitter at @PCAmandaKerr.