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Afterschool Academic Improvement

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 -- Stephanie Abbott

Learning continues outside of the classroom. Online learning programs give students opportunities to continue their education after school hours. Technology enables students to engage in learning activities on their own time or in supervised settings. Here is a case that illustrates how Study Island benefits learners in an afterschool facility.

South of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Monongahela Valley of Allegheny Country has economically distressed communities. Many of the children in the Woodland Hills School District live in a single-head household where the annual income is below $15,000, so they are eligible for a federal free or reduced lunch. In this environment, their time after school might be spent unsupervised. Luckily for the students enrolled in the Youth Learning in a Fun Environment (Youth LIFE) After-School Program, there is a safe place for those afterschool hours.

Youth LIFE is a program operated by the Human Services Center Corporation (HSCC) open to 100 students in first through fifth grade from 37 distressed communities. The center provides students with an educational place to spend their weekday afternoons and evenings. The children receive a nutritious snack and drink, possibly much healthier than the evening meal at home.

In addition to fulfilling important physical needs, the program’s focus is to afford students educational opportunities even more beneficial to them in the long term. The program provides supervised homework time as well as academic enrichment through supplemental activities provided by Study Island. The afterschool program is run by Meaghan Maher, Youth Programs Assistant Director. Meaghan is not a teacher. She earned a Master’s of Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh. Managing an afterschool program was probably not on her job list. Fortunately for these children, serving and supporting the neediest was.

Study Island has facilitated giving the children a structure which allows Meaghan to customize the academic activities to each student’s individual needs. When students start the afterschool program, their first Study Island activity is a diagnostic pretest created in Test Builder. Because the assessment is automatically scored, Meghan knows immediately the strengths and weaknesses of each child. She then creates a monthly practice assignment of four to five topics aligned to the curriculum they are learning in school. The children are in classes of 10 to 15 students, which may be a mix of grade levels. Because Meaghan can customize the assignments, the mixed grade groups can work. According to Meaghan, “Study Island is the best fit for grade-level-appropriate work.”

Student achievement is recognized with Blue Ribbon contests and the Study Island Student of the Month. Positive feedback comes in small doses too, as the children get a treat when they earn a Blue Ribbon for reaching the minimum passing goal or gain access to game mode.

It’s another type of achievement that is even more satisfying. Meaghan and the rest of the staff take great pride in encouraging the children to go beyond the minimum passing goal. They hope to instill a sense of accomplishment for doing one’s personal best. Meaghan says, “It is a victory when you see a child earn a white ribbon. Success on a remediation topic is just as significant. We are laying the foundation for success on the grade-level content. That is strong evidence of the benefit of the Study Island program.”

The automatic item analysis and data gathering in Study Island makes tracking student progress and usage a simple task. The generous funders of the afterschool program want proof that their investment is paying off. It is easy for Meaghan to document success for each child, as well as the program as a whole, utilizing the Study Island reports.

The free afterschool programs of HSCC give students opportunities that they otherwise would have been unable to experience. With Study Island, students can work on academic and standardized test scores improvement outside of the classroom.  A little assistance goes a long way in enriching the academic performance of students by way of afterschool learning.