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Wyoming Community Comes Together to Help Students
Wyoming’s T.E.A.M. 21 after school programs flourish under a partnership between the city, schools, non-profits, and the community. Despite budget and curriculum cuts, elementary and middle school students enrolled in T.E.A.M. 21 after school and summer school programs are having educational experiences that go beyond the basics. The city’s parks and recreation department has teamed up with Wyoming’s four public school districts to make it happen, with the
help of educators, non-profits, local churches, and others from across the community.
T.E.A.M. 21 was initially launched at three elementary schools, after associate superintendent Tom Reeder successfully wrote for federal dollars, which were granted by the Michigan Department of Education’s “21st Century Communities Learning Centers.” Since, they have received additional funds through the grant, which has allowed seven more elementary and middle schools to be added to the program—Godfrey Lee, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, and Wyoming public school systems. Aside from one elementary school that has since closed, nine elementary and middle schools currently offer T.E.A.M. 21 after school programming to 500 students at any given time.
Meanwhile, over at the city’s parks and recreation department, “As a municipality, we were looking at how we could work with our schools, in particular with after school programming. We were looking at some initiatives related to gang violence, social engagement, children, and families,” according to Rebecca Rynbrandt, director of community services.
“We target students who need the program the most. We came up with a rubric that everyone can use across the school districts, which weighs academic and social-emotional needs of students,” Wyoming recreation programmer Scott Bloem reports. “A good problem we have is being constantly at capacity; we have wait lists. One of them was up to 75 students at one point in the year,” he explains. Factors in this need-based rubric include: whether students qualify for reduced-price school lunches; how they are doing academically, emotionally, and socially; and recommendations from teachers and principals.
Reeder reports that the main goals of T.E.A.M. 21 are to “increase student learning and achievement in both academic and non-academic areas; increase students’ physical and emotional health in a safe environment; provide a good educational workplace for cultural community-based activities, and encourage family and community involvement.”
During the school year, T.E.A.M. 21 is led by site coordinators, group leaders, and contracted instructors from the community. Adults involved in the program possess a vast array of skill sets and offer tons of different activities—from tutoring help in core academics, to field trips, physical fitness and health, character building, art and music, gardening, and special events, and the list goes on. During the summer, public school teachers run a traditional summer school in the morning and T.E.A.M. 21 runs programming in the afternoon.
“Our staff works to find a lot of activities that students might not otherwise have opportunities to do,” Wyoming recreation programmer Jessica Hughes says.
“Science is something that has been cut back or dropped from the elementary public school curriculums. I’ve seen it eliminated in one major district in the area. That’s an area where after school programs like T.E.A.M. 21 can really take off,” according to Bloem. T.E.A.M. 21 activities cover “S.T.E.M.”: science, technology, engineering, and math”—and on one occasion students designed and built a playable mini-golf hole.
“A number of our enrichment offerings are really unique, like Capoeira—a Brazilian martial arts and dance form—with local instructors.
This summer a music instructor taught flutophone, glockenspiel, and ukulele, and some of the students learned how to read music that way,” Hughes says.
The biggest area where T.E.A.M. 21 has partnered with non-profit organizations “is in the character education portion of the program. We’ve worked with a lot of outside organizations who come in and deliver character education pieces to students—like anger management, life skills, and different issues of character,” Hughes adds. Another example is the youth substance abuse prevention group Project Charlie.
The first “21st Century Communities Learning Center” grant allowed them to “raise gardens at all three of [that first set of] elementary schools,” according to Wyoming recreation supervisor Eric Tomkins. We’ve also incorporated nutrition and health into our lesson planning. The food some of these kids are getting is from the local convenience stores, not even grocery stores. Some are going to gas stations and minimarts,” he says. The team stresses that they try to include practical life skills like healthy cooking that the kids can use in their everyday life.
T.E.A.M. 21 also seeks to engage the whole family. Collaborations with local churches, Wyoming Park and Wesley Park United Methodist, have included English as a Second Language (ESL) training for adults, as well as computer education and access. Rynbrandt thinks computer education is important for the whole family. “The children are better versed than their parents a lot of the time. So, if the parents want to help their children with homework, they really need to understand computers, as well,” she says.
They recently partnered with Grand Valley State University (GVSU) to offer two language arts classes for the first time this spring, in which college students interested in becoming teachers mentor T.E.A.M. 21 students twice a week during the school year. “GVSU students get exposed to a demographic that they are perhaps interested in serving in the public school setting once they graduate. At the same time, we get the benefit of up and coming professional teachers working at a ratio that is very beneficial—one adult to a couple of students,” Bloem says.
According to Reeder, the benefits of having T.E.A.M. 21 around extend beyond the students and their families. “T.E.A.M. 21 employs around 100 people at a time, with $1.5 million going to the community through employment. A thousand kids are going through the programming year round, during tough economic times,” he says.
In return, parents and the Wyoming community have shown support by volunteering thousands of hours of their time, and T.E.A.M. 21 has received nearly $9,000 in in-kind donations and contributions—services and materials—in fiscal year 2010. In addition to funding received through the Michigan Department of Education, the program has received funds from Lowes for their gardening projects.
Further successes have come in the way of awards and accolades. T.E.A.M. 21 was the Region 3 finalist for the League’s 2009 “Community Excellence Awards.” The same year, it was the first winner of the “Connecting with Community Award” from WOOD TV8 in partnership with Grand Rapids Community College, Huntington Bank, and Metro Health. This year, the Michigan Association of School Boards honored T.E.A.M. 21 with a “2010 Educational Excellence Award” in the category of before and after school programs.
Reeder thinks without the schools’ collaboration with the city, T.E.A.M. 21 wouldn’t be what it is today or even possible in the first place. “We only have so much time and expertise in our setting and instead of trying to do everything, we thought: ‘the city does some things very well.’ They have been able to provide people and resources that we couldn’t. We’ve been able to reciprocate. If they wanted to run the program themselves, they would still need our schools, our facilities,” he thinks. Reeder concludes, “It’s been a mutually beneficial collaboration.”
Jennifer Eberbach is a freelance journalist and professional copywriter. You may contact her at 734-929-2964 or visit her online at www.jenthewriter.info.