DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
GRANITE SHOALS — Where else can students go to school and find themselves reveling in the world of Wii but at Highland Lakes Elementary School?
It depends on the Afterschool Centers on Education site director and what he or she has up his or her sleeve. The ACE program is an after-school enrichment program that entices students to participate in additional tutoring and studying knowing that, after that, they can have fun.
“Part of this is to just make the kids see that school can be fun. I really think this is about changing the kids’ perspective about school,” said Kerri O’Connor, the ACE program project director. “Look at them. They’re smiling and laughing. Imagine when they go home, they’ll say, ‘Hey, Mom, I got to learn how to make a mosaic pot’ instead of going home maybe after getting a low grade on test and just looking depressed about school.
“This could really change how kids see school,” she said.
Burnet and Marble Falls school districts went together last spring to apply for a Texas 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant. Of the several hundred grant applications filed, the state awarded funding to only 19, including the Burnet County Consortium, which includes Marble Falls and Burnet school districts.
The funding is for five years, but the consortium must reapply each year to show the program is hitting specific targets as far as participation. If the turnout Sept. 4 at Highland Lakes Elementary is any indication about the popularity of the program, achieving participation goals shouldn’t be any problem.
About 263 students of the 500-plus pupil campus have already signed up to participate.
“It’s a rolling enrollment, so they don’t have to sign up at the beginning of the year and not get another chance,” O’Connor said.
The program includes Highland Lakes Elementary, Marble Falls Middle School, Marble Falls High School, Bertram Elementary School, Burnet Elementary School, R.J. Richey Elementary School and Burnet Middle School. Campuses must meet certain criteria such as percentage of students classified as economic-disadvantaged to qualify for ACE programs.
Each campus’ ACE site director develops after-school activities suited for the school’s student body.
Josh DeLoach, the Highland Lakes Elementary site director, surveyed students about what type of enrichment programs they are interested in. Several such as soccer, basketball and even Wii seemed rather obvious. But other choices such as macrame or pot mosaics didn’t, yet a number of students selected those types.
“Right now, we’re just getting going so we have some typical choices, but I’m working on lining up more,” DeLoach said. The programs rotate every six to eight weeks so students get more options. Throughout the year, site directors will continue to survey students to determine their wants and needs.
During the mosaic pot class, Highland Lakes teacher D’Ann Ross broke tile sections into smaller pieces. She handed out the pieces to students who collected them and took them to nearby tables. Fourth-grader Alizae Rojas glued turquoise tile pieces onto a clay pot.
She’s excited about the after-school enrichment opportunities.
“I’ve never done this before,” she said. “You can do things you usually don’t get to do.”
O’Connor said that’s the beauty of the program. It allows students to explore activities that aren’t part of the typical classroom day.
“Even the teachers are excited because they get to teach things they don’t have time for in class or it’s just not a part of the curriculum,” she said.
When O’Connor and site directors began reaching out to people to instruct the after-school programs, teachers quickly stepped up.
“I was surprised a bit,” O’Connor said. “Who could blame them if, after putting a full day in at school, that the last thing they wanted to do was hang around and teach more. But the teachers have been great.”
Before students can participate in an enrichment activity, they spend about 45 minutes to an hour working on homework. Several of the campuses also offer before-school tutoring and homework help.
“One of the best things I’ve heard from a parent was, ‘My child came home and his homework was already done,'” O’Connor said. “So that takes a lot of the burden off parents. Besides, if the child is here doing his or her homework and there’s a teacher right here helping, you know the student is doing the homework right. If he or she goes home, there’s the chance the parent may not know if it’s right.”
While Marble Falls campuses started the ACE programs already, O’Connor said the Burnet schools will start rolling Sept. 16.
“Parents should be getting registration information sent home with kids,” she said.
Parents who haven’t received information but whose students are enrolled on an ACE campus can go to www.mfisd.txed.net and go under the “Departments” heading for “Burnet County Consortium ACE Program” for more information.
After spending two hours keeping kids and instructors all in the right places, DeLoach paused for a few moments. He contemplated the best part of ACE for a moment before describing how it really impacts the students and instructors.
“This certainly shows us why we’re here,” he said. “We’re here for the kids. Everything we do as teachers and educators is for the kids.”