Making the best use of time is a valuable lesson to learn early on. Elm Street’s Aspire after school program, implemented last year, has taken very little time to fill up and some parents have placed their children on a waiting list because the program is now at capacity. By offering much more than help with homework, Aspire educators aim to not only make the children better students, but better people all-around.

Penny Akinson, a Physical Education teacher at Elm Street, also serves as the co-coordinator for Aspire. She and Pre-K teacher Heather Sargent have organized activities to keep students busy during down time after school, but also give them a helping hand with their studies. The programs runs from 3-6 p.m. and the children are given a snack after school and they are fed dinner before they leave, free of charge.

“We have students here four days a week and we work on reading, math and writing,” said Akinson, “but we also have a few fun extracurricular activities for our students. On Monday, we have 30 minutes of dance and woodworking. On Tuesdays we have an art class after working on our studies. On Wednesdays we all go to the YMCA where half of us swim and the other half participates in a fitness class like Zumba. Then, on Thursdays we have a life skills group that we teach in addition to our reading, writing and math.”

During the life skills class, the students learn manners, safety lessons and other basic skills.

Aspire is a federally funded program that is planned for the next five years in Rome City Schools. The program consists of third, fourth and fifth grade students. While the goal is to have fun with learning, some of the data collected has been instrumental in getting students reading on grade level.

“We use a reading program called Lexia. This program presents the learning activities in a fun and engaging way, and our children really enjoy working on the lessons,” Akinson explained. “But, the data we collect after they work through different sections is how we track their levels. I can pull up the progress of each student to be sure they are working and help them in areas where they may be deficient.”

The data is then shared with the teachers around the school so that they can tailor their lessons to the needs of the students. Also, by tracking progress students are able to be rewarded for reaching milestones in their education.

“For example, if we work on fractions during Aspire and we see that some of our students are struggling, then we can pass this information on to teachers who can spend extra time in this area of study,” Akinson said.

The curriculum is provided by the federal government, but educators can choose the direction of the lessons according to the student’s needs.