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New London - With a timer in hand, a pencil and a piece of paper on the desk, Xynaijah Caldwell sat across from her friend Aliana Davenport.
"Ready, set, go!" Caldwell, 11, exclaimed.
Five minutes into the activity, which tested the students' ability to identify the long and short vowels in a word by identifying a picture on the flashcard, Davenport, with a large stack still in hand, grew frustrated.
There was even an "oddball" pile for vowels that students had trouble identifying.
"I can't do this," said the 12-year-old Davenport.
"Yes you can. You have to," Caldwell said.
During the fifth week of the ENRICH program on Thursday, Caldwell and Davenport were among two groups of 50 students each at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School students who were participating in the school's Extended Learning Time pilot program, which alternates between activities and tutor/mentor support at Connecticut College.
The after-school program started in early February and runs Monday through Thursday from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. It will conclude May 16.
"When we heard there was an opportunity to establish a program like this through Extended Learning Time we jumped at the opportunity," said Kate McCoy, a language arts teacher at Bennie Dover. "Our first priority was to address vocabulary and strategic reading. Through Extended Learning Time we are coming up with schoolwide priorities that include overall school improvement and math."
As part of the Extended Learning Time initiative, McCoy said the school was asked to come up with priorities for its students and staff to focus on as the possibility of an extended school day moves forward.
She said ENRICH is "just a snapshot" of what future efforts would look like.
The 100 students participating in the ENRICH program were selected based on their scores on the reading portion of the Measures of Academic Progress test, which is administered to students three times a year. Students in the program are tested throughout the program, but all middle school students will also be tested for the third and final time on the MAP in the late spring. Data from the MAP test - especially results from the students in the ENRICH program - will be evaluated for progress.
At first, McCoy wasn't sure how parents would respond to the request by the school that their students stay after to participate in the ENRICH program.
"The permission slip went out and 89 of the 100 students had their slips turned in within three days," she said. "That to us was a huge victory. Parents are saying they want their kids with us after school, that they know what we have is good for their kids."
Caldwell and Davenport said that because of the increased instruction in reading and vocabulary they can see a difference in their ability to perform in the classroom and on their homework assignments.
"I was not that good in my writing, but now I have threes and fours on my writing prompts instead of ones and twos," Caldwell said. "I want my grades to be higher. I got low grades so I'm trying to bring them up and this is helping."
Scores of three and four indicate advanced proficiency levels, while a score of a one or two indicates basic understanding.
"When I was in fifth grade, my writing grades were higher, but when I went to sixth grade they went down a few points. But I feel like I've been doing well lately," Davenport said. "My goal is to be at the seventh- or eighth-grade reading level like I was last year."
Last December, the New London, Meriden and East Hartford school districts were selected by the state to pilot the Extended Learning Time initiatives with funding from the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning. Next year, 3,184 children in those school districts will have 300 more hours of learning time added to their school year.
Pending approval of New London's participation by the TIME Collaborative and the state, the city's three elementary schools - Winthrop, Jennings and Nathan Hale - and the middle school will begin full implementation of the extended day in the fall of 2013. Of the $809,001 the district received in Alliance Grant funds last year, Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School Principal Alison Ryan said $23,000 of the grant was earmarked for the middle school's extended day plan.
College students volunteer
On Thursday afternoon at Connecticut College, the second group of 50 students in ENRICH were involved in a series of five workshops -Arabic culture and language, arts and crafts, theater, song writing and Afro-Caribbean dance. The aim is to broaden their horizons.
It was because of the various workshops offered as part of the partnership with the college that Willyam Minoda found dance. After a snack, free reading and completing his homework with a tutor, he led a large group of middle and college students as well as a few teachers in an Afro-Caribbean dance routine.
"Dancing is my type of thing. I have it memorized in my head from seeing him (the instructor) do it the first time," said Minoda, 12. "I like dancing because it helps me express my feelings. I like it more than basketball."
Other workshops offered this session are Chinese language and culture, spoken word, improvisation, Zumba, physical fitness, sustainability, SISTER, iCivics and Reach. On March 25, middle school students will have the opportunity to swim in the college's pool and use its other athletic facilities.
Fourteen Connecticut College students studying public policy and social ethics, participating in work study programs or who have a passion for education and education equity volunteered as workshop leaders, said Tracee Reiser, associate dean for community learning at Connecticut College. Seventy-two college students also serve as tutors/mentors for the middle school students.
"What's exciting about this is continuing and deepening the partnerships we already have with our community partners. Conn has really stepped up to the plate and delivered in a major way," Ryan said.
In the arts and crafts workshop, Shane Brooks, 11, worked diligently on a needlepoint in the shape of a star. It wasn't the first time he had done needlepoint, he said, threading the neon orange yarn through the small openings of the plastic shape. When he finishes, he said he'll give the star to his mom.
When Connecticut College students are on spring break, other community partners, like the Garde Arts Center, fill in with different activities, said Edward Sweeney, physical education teacher at Bennie Dover. Sweeney was on the school's committee that was charged last December with planning a program for the Extended Learning Time initiative.
Thursday was the last day of the ENRICH program before Conn students departed for spring break. At the final Arabic language and culture workshop that afternoon, Adoni Johnson, 11, said he was thankful for the program.
"I want to learn a second language; even though I can only speak English, if I meet anyone who can speak Arabic, I can talk to them a little," Johnson said.
He knows the Arabic words for mom, mommy, dad, daddy and I love you.
"I'd like to take Arabic at the middle and high school level if it's available," he said.