Students come to school from a wide variety of background and experience. Positive external support from family, relatives, and other benefactors makes a significant difference in the academic and skill development, as well as the motivation of effort for a student. Most parents want to provide the very best support for their students possible but there is much to limit their options. Many families in Mecklenburg struggle with poverty. High-speed Internet access is very limited throughout the county. Workdays are long and schedules often require evening or weekend time on the job. These issues and others can limit the availability of support for students of all ages to fulfill their potential.
School is in session from approximately 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM for 180 days of the year. The number of student support services provided to students to take care of non-academic needs has grown exponentially over the past few decades. This includes breakfast, lunch, and even dinner meals for many, physical exercise, athletics, and a wide variety of extra-curricular programs. But there are 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year. Students are away from school longer than they are with us. Their access to learning opportunities and support during this time makes the difference in success or failure in dealing with life’s challenges. For this reason Mecklenburg County Public Schools are looking to make partnerships with programs to provide what is called “wrap-around services” for students during the time that schools are not open.
There are many programs for students already providing wrap-around services. Last week this article focused on the importance of informal education programs including summer camps, boy and girl scouts, career programs provided by business and industry, summer school, and even athletic programs. These programs challenge participants to engage and apply the material that they have learned in the classroom (though they may not recognize that they are doing so.) Social and soft skills are also reinforced in these programs. However, many of our students are not able to participate in or get support from these programs. It is imperative that ways are found to support these students as they engage the career literacy, academic and skill development, and community engagement programs we are advocating for the 21st Century Schools. How do we do this?
Churches and civic groups like the YMCA provide wonderful life-support amenities to local communities and are not limited to structured timetables. Mecklenburg County Public Schools seeks to create partnerships with organizations of this type that would provide wrap-around services to students. How could this work? There are several possible examples to consider:
- · Most academic resources are now available through the Internet. This includes textbook materials, research information, content video, online assessment, and even tutorial services. Teachers use this in the classroom and are well served to refer students to this material for homework. How do students without high-speed access at home complete their work? Churches, libraries, or civic organizations willing to make a place for students after school, on weekends, or during the summer, could set up access for students. It would be even better to have retirees and other volunteers serve as mentors to reinforce student effort. Technology can be used to directly connect the out-of-school academic activities to the assignments given in the classroom.
- · Students need opportunity for physical activity. The YMCA has offered to help create appropriate activity programs with any partner that will provide wrap-around support for students.
- · Some students depend upon their schools to provide consistent meals for nourishment. MCPS is very pleased to have secured federal and state support to provide afternoon snacks and even evening meals for students that participate in after school activities. This support can be extended to programs that are providing approved wrap-around services.
- · The development of strong reading skills is critical to success in life. Reading skills are developed only by significant time devoted to reading. Wrap-around service centers can be supplied with an abundance of reading supplies and could have volunteers support student reading development. Math and writing development can also be supported.
Obviously there are many other opportunities for support that churches and civic groups can provide through well-planned wrap-around centers. I am pleased as Superintendent to be engaged in conversations with leaders that are open to developing partnerships for this purpose. The schools are in a position, with parent permission, to transport students from school to the center. Each center would determine how much time they can make available to local students after school, on weekends, or during summer hours.
Our children are our most precious resource. We cannot afford to lose any to poverty or lack of resources. Wrap-around services may be the only way to make sure that we can meet the needs of all our students as we ask them to prepare for successful lives in the 21st Century.