SOUTH BEND — The after-school tutoring help at Washington High School is part of the school’s identity as a 21st Century Community Learning Center.
That means the school provides a place from 3 to 5:30 p.m. four days a week where students can gather for schoolwork assistance, to eat a snack and to learn life skills such as balancing a checkbook. The school also provides students bus transportation home afterward.
On Nov. 14, the day a Tribune reporter visited the after-school session at Washington, there were more than 100 students in Washington’s cafeteria but few appeared to be doing any schoolwork.
Most were talking, listening to music or using cell phones.
The atmosphere of the sessions is designed to be more informal than during the school day, Washington employee Shawn Henderson said. “We don’t want it to be run like a traditional classroom,” he said. He’s a student advocate and site coordinator for Washington’s 21st Century Community Learning Center.
Students are expected to do school work, but silence is not mandated, he said.
Attending the sessions is encouraged, but no students are required to attend. “Kids can come late (to the sessions) and leave early to attend sports practices,” Henderson said.
Both Washington and Riley high schools are 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The after-school programs at the two schools are funded by a four-year federal grant that provides each school $100,000 a year.
The funding helps with Henderson’s salary, as well as extra pay for licensed science, math and English teachers and a licensed special education staff member during the after-school sessions. The Bethel College student tutors are paid by the college.
Employees from the YMCA Urban Youth Services attend one day a week to offer students life-skills training.
Washington was among three South Bend high schools that this year were removed from academic probation and the threat of state intervention. Washington in July received the news that its students had scored high enough on standardized tests to avoid state involvement.
During a visit last spring to Washington High by an Indiana Department of Education team, the team expressed concern about the quality of the after-school program. Although the program was well attended, it wasn’t well structured, and students were talking and listening to music rather than working, according to the team’s report.
During the Nov. 14 Tribune visit, many students in the session requested and received credit-redemption slips signed by Henderson.
A student is allowed to miss up to six sessions of a class during a 12-week trimester, but fails if he or she misses a seventh. If a student misses a seventh, that student can “redeem” that class credit by attending an after-school session and receiving a credit-redemption slip, Henderson said.
“They are required to do homework during the session,” he said.
During the Nov. 14 visit, many students didn’t have class assignments because it was near finals, he said. “They were getting ready to go into finals or they had already taken finals,” he said.
“I don’t have a problem with them having music in their ears or sitting and talking with friends (while they do homework),” Henderson said, noting students today are good at multitasking.
“It’s a relaxing, enjoyable environment,” he said. “I’m pleased with the program.”
Staff writer Margaret Fosmoe: