SEF Grants at Jefferson School Provide Academic Support for All Students
Programs like J.E.E.P. and Study Buddies x 2, funded by the Summit Educational Foundation, give kids opportunities for academic support beyond the standard school day.
The Summit Educational Foundation (SEF) holds a special place in the hearts of the staff at Jefferson School. For the 2010-2011 school year, SEF has generously provided approximately $60,000 in grant money to fund programs which provide opportunities for student success which, just a few years ago, had not been available.
The Jefferson Extended Enrichment Program (J.E.E.P.) is one of those initiatives. The support program, which is currently in its second year at the elementary school, is led by Jefferson teachers Jackie Campagna and Stephanie Gleason.
The unique enrichment opportunity provides extended, experience-based instruction to students in grades 2 to 5 who have met qualifications for the afterschool group based on economic status, test scores, language acquisition, and teacher recommendations.
"We're teaching the basics, but we're presenting it to (students) in a different way and we're requiring different things of them," said Jefferson School Principal Ron Poles. "These students don't need more of the same thing. They need more, and they need something different."
The J.E.E.P. program was created to close gaps in language arts and math among the school's population of struggling students and its major goals include teaching without excessive reliance on lecture and test preparation, incorporating project and experience-based learning, developing small learning communities, and making learning relevant to students' lives.
The program's curriculum focuses heavily on student experience and is written each year by Campagna and Gleason. The plan is divided into monthly units, each of which focuses on a different theme.
Last month's topic, Thanksgiving, required students to prepare a complete Thanksgiving feast. As a group, they decided how many people would be attending and how much food needed to be purchased before eventually working together to measure ingredients, cook, and serve the meal. The learners also had the unique opportunity to visit Natale's Bakery where they baked their own bread for the occasion.
Although the described series of activities may sound like just a lot of fun, projects such as these allow students to have experiences which they may not otherwise have access to, while still expanding their intellectual knowledge and building academic skills.
"We include components of literacy, math, technology, problem-solving, and writing," said Campagna of the curriculum behind the activities. Campagna and Gleason said they like leading the program because it provides them with a creative and expressive way to teach that is different from standard classroom instruction.
For example, this month's "Insects of the World" theme brought in a bug expert from Insectropolis, The Bug Museum of New Jersey, who taught students about insects and brought some crawly friends along. J.E.E.P.'s facilitators then used the experience to build student's vocabulary, elicit journal responses, motivate the kids to compare and contrast what they saw, work through insect-related math problems, and investigate the usefulness of the bugs in the kids' daily lives.
"It was an actual experience they had, which is very different than opening a book on insects," said Poles. "We try to make sure our programs are experientially based and the reason for that is that our population of students tends to come to us with less than the students that arrive at the other schools."
Gleason added, "We just take every opportunity to provide an experience. That's really our goal."
The extended enrichment group meets three to four times a week after school during an added 8th period time slot from 3:00-4:00 p.m. This year, there are 20 students enrolled in the class.
"We have students who are asking to join the program. It's an afterschool program…you have to stay for an additional hour after school, and we have a waiting list of kids who want to get in," said Poles of those eager to join, despite the fact that they must meet specific qualifications to be accepted.
Other than its popularity among students, Gleason said that one of the biggest outcomes of the program has been the kids' boosted confidence. The leaders have also been impressed by the ways the students have become so enthusiastic about the subject material where they previously exhibited no motivation to learn. The teachers recounted stories of individuals writing books and reports on their own time and visiting the library to ask for more information on the J.E.E.P. topics so that they could learn more on their own.
Poles applied for the current year's grant in the spring of 2010 and after reviewing the success of last year, he said he included additional funding for bringing in guest speakers or taking students on educational excursions. "SEF was very generous, and included that in the grant," said the principal.
J.E.E.P. isn't the only Jefferson success story, thanks to SEF. Study Buddies x 2 is a modification of the previously established Study Buddies program and is in its third year at the elementary school.
"A couple of years ago, our staff spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about the things that we already have and trying to think about using those resources differently and outside of the box," said Poles. "We noticed our students were not getting the support they needed at home for a whole host of reasons, specifically reading."
The result was the Study Buddies group and now its extension, called Study Buddies x 2, open to qualified students in grades 3, 4, and 5. The group meets after school four days a week, which is an increase from the two days it met in the past. It was this doubled amount of time that inspired its new name.
One of those four meeting days is entirely devoted to reading and reading instruction. The hour-long session, which is attended by about 30 students, is run by three certified teachers who provide homework support and aid with long-term projects to students who are not receiving enough academic support outside of school.
Children who participate in the Study Buddies x 2 Program are identified based on factors similar to those used for the J.E.E.P. program.
Since its inception two years ago, Study Buddies x 2 has shown to increase student reading scores, as evidenced by student tests and report cards, and increased the consistency and completion of homework and school project assignments, according to Poles.
Morning Computer Time is a third SEF-funded opportunity for young students to receive academic support beyond the constraints of the classroom. For one hour before the school day begins, the computer lab opens its doors to those who may not have ready access to technology outside of school. Priority is given to those learners who need the computers for school projects and assignments.
Poles, who was responsible for applying for the SEF grants at Jefferson School, has since produced a presentation used to feature the success of the various Jefferson programs funded by the foundation.
The final slide of the presentation reads: "The fact of the matter is that there is not a single Jefferson School student who has not been touched by the generosity and support provided by the SEF. The opportunities provided, because of this support, are outstanding. You allow and encourage us, to put on our creative thinking caps, while enabling us to implement innovative ideas and programs that directly impact the success of all students."