By CHERIL VERNON
Palestine Independent School District has received news that the district has been awarded the highly sought-after 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant — which includes $8.5 million over a five-year period — that will provide additional learning opportunities for PISD students before and after school.
“There were only 19 winners in the state of Texas who received the grant, so we feel pretty fortunate,” PISD Superintendent Jason Marshall told the Herald-Press Thursday. “Across the state, there were $60 million in grants given out and we got $8.5 million, so we got a substantial portion.”
The long-standing grant program supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children.
The program helps students meet state and local student standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and math; and offers students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs.
The learning centers will be set up at Palestine ISD on the following campuses: Northside Primary School, Southside Elementary School, Story Intermediate School, Palestine Junior High School and Palestine High School. Washington Early Childhood Center was not included in the grant.
“This will provide before- and after-school learning centers with first-class master teachers. It allows us the opportunity to extend the educational day to meet the needs of every student,” Marshall said.
Marshall commended Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Carolyn Martin and the school district’s grant writing team for their effort.
“They did a tremendous job in helping us get this grant,” Marshall said. “There were many districts larger than Palestine vying for this grant.”
The 21st Century grant will kick off in October and provide funding for four days of learning center activities throughout the next five years, including summers. The grant also includes transportation to and from the program and a snack for the student.
“We hope our kids and parents will embrace the opportunity,” Marshall said.
The grant also will help build on other grants the district has received, such as the TT1PS (Texas Title 1 Priority Schools) grant, which is providing hand-held devices for students at the high school and middle school.
“TT1PS will play out in the 2013-14 school year, so for us to receive a district-wide grant such as the 21st Century grant, it shows our district is willing to look at outside sources to provide funding for learning opportunities for our kids to supplement our budget,” Marshall said. “It’s also another plug for our district, which has a solid background financially, to build on our strong grant record.”
The grant also can be used to build on the educational opportunities the other grants have started with the implementation of the handheld devices for students for the district’s 1:1 and 24/7 technology initiatives.
Implementing the Learning Centers
The 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant will be implemented through the use of learning centers at each campus (excluding Washington). The centers will be open one hour before school and two hours after school four days a week.
“The teachers are excited. They believe this will be something really neat for our students,” Martin said. “They are already starting to brainstorm things they can do.”
Some of the ideas for the learning centers include not only homework assistance but also innovative teaching opportunities, Martin said.
“We have talked about cooking classes using measurements, readers’ theater, using the iPad Minis for all kinds of learning opportunities with educational apps, having some fun while we learn and hitting our digital natives,” Martin said.
For example, something taught in math class earlier in the day can be applied in the real world during the learning center time after school, so the student can understand the concept better.
The STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) labs at Story Intermediate School and Palestine Junior High School will be folded in the learning centers, as part of Project Lead the Way.
“We hope to have kids in small groups with teachers and lots of one-to-one classes for individual attention. At the high school, we can open up the CTE (Career Technology Education) building,” Marshall said. “In the summer, we will be able to use this to continue our new bridge summer program, where students get a jump start on their next year in their incoming classes.”
Marshall expects to see a wide and diverse array of learning opportunities for students at all age levels, while sending the students home in the evening with their homework, if any, completed.
“Not everyone has the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ life where the cookies and milk are waiting when you get home and you get help with your homework,” Marshall said. “This 21st Century grant structure works like that, but it takes place at school. You can get help with your homework and a snack before you go home.”
The school district will be informing parents about the program as the school year kicks off with letters, the district webpage and call-outs.
Throughout each school year, there will be 120 opportunities for students to attend the learning centers and 20 during the summer for a total of 140 opportunities. The goal is for a targeted number of students to attend the learning center program at least 30 times throughout the school year.