Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
The school day doesn’t end with the dismissal bell for more than 300 students attending elementary schools that are part of the Battle Creek Public Schools.
These students attend an afterschool program operated through BCPS’ 21st Century Program
at 10 different school sites. From 3:30-5:45 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday and from 2:45-5:45 p.m. On Wednesdays, they have access to a safe and dedicated space where they are able to get their homework done and participate in enrichment activities including book, drama, and chess clubs.
As a former teacher and principal and now an administrator, Freddie McGee, Director of Extended Learning programs for BCPS, says he would argue that the 21st Century program, which began in 2002, is one of the most important in the district.
“It’s an extra two hours for students who may have gotten a class assignment or homework and they want to complete it before they get home. We give them at least one hour of academics and an hour of enrichment,” McGee says.
In late October students, Extended Learning staff and BCPS school staff were joined by State Rep. Jim Haadsma, whose district includes the city of Battle Creek, to highlight the importance of afterschool programs during the annual “Lights On Afterschool” event to draw attention to the importance of these programs. The local march was one of more than 8,000 that took place throughout the United States spearheaded by the Afterschool Alliance
, a nonprofit established by the U.S. Department of Education.
McGee, who is working on his Ph.D. in K-12 Educational Leadership, says efforts to ban books in schools are just one of many issues that school districts are grappling with and these marches, inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., are designed to give students a voice.
The need for after-school programs is still prevalent, says a 2020 report conducted by Afterschool Alliance which found that for every child in an after-school program in Michigan, four more children are waiting to be accepted. 52% of parents surveyed in the same report felt that after-school programs were too expensive. The lack of funding for these programs is not just a Michigan issue, the report also indicates that there are nearly 25 million children who aren’t able to access after-school programs across the country.
McGee says Dr. Anita Harvey, Director of Transformation with BCPS, continues to put a focus on the program.
“I applaud Dr. Harvey. This is part of her vision,” he says.
Students come into the program through teacher referrals or parental requests. McGee and his staff also actively recruit at schools during the day.
“We want to reach out to those kids who need the most help whether that be academics, behavior, or attendance. Each organization in our district has a theory of action of what’s going to drive their work,” McGee says. “Our motto is ‘A place where kids love to come and hate to leave.' We’re creating that culture and climate of kids wanting to be there. We want to get away from this whole thing that we’re a latchkey babysitting program.”
“We’re structuring little people's lives. We are their teachers, motivators, and in some instances, mothers and fathers to these kids. We’re going to be that extra adult in their lives. These kids want to be recognized.”
Each one of the afterschool sites has a maximum number of 50 students with one site poised to hit that maximum number soon. The sites are fully staffed and McGee says there are people queued up to work with the program. Depending on the size of the site, the ratio is one staff member for every 15 students and there is currently a total of 45 staff.
They meet every week to review data which shows how each student is doing as a way to measure the success and impact of the program. They also share ideas and learn from those who are hitting their stride, McGee says.
“We’re all working together so everyone reaches those goals. We’re strategically, unapologetically, and intentionally working to improve academics that do spill over to school day,” he says. “We’re letting our data drive our work. A lot of this is novel to our coordinators.”
One of the main focuses at BCPS is on removing opportunity gaps to ensure every student has access to academic support and experiences that can significantly impact their trajectories in school and beyond, says Dr. Kimberly Carter, BCPS Superintendent.
“We know that students who are involved in extracurriculars are more likely to attend school regularly, stay engaged during the school day, and graduate on time,” she says. “So we are incredibly grateful for the partnerships we have in place here in Battle Creek, including 21st Century, the YMCA, KydNet, Willard Library, and others, to help bridge the gap and provide students with engaging, hands-on learning opportunities, reading enrichment, and even social-emotional support and learning.”
These learning opportunities are scheduled to expand to include middle school student-athletes. McGee says this concept came from Lorin Granger, Athletic Director for BCPS, and Patrick Johnson, Athletic for the BCPS middle schools.
These students will be bussed to different BCPS school buildings after school where they will have the opportunity to get their homework done and eat a snack before their practices start.
“During their downtime between traveling and waiting for practice to start, we’ll be putting together house study tables that will go from 45 minutes to one hour,” McGee says.
With each of the afterschool programs, McGee says they want to provide every opportunity for students to learn as much as they can and excel.
“We want to make sure we give them maximum learning opportunities,” he says.