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Community Effort Links
In-School, After-School Learning

Louisville, Kentucky, school officials wanted youngsters to get more out of their after school hours, so now with the help of a software program, they share data with after-school program staff who develop content to address students' areas of weakness. Included:Ways schools and community agencies can work together.

The hours between school dismissal bell and a youngster's bedtime can be long and often unsupervised and unproductive. But that all changes when a community comes together to fill those after school hours with the additional instruction and the support that many students need.

Somehow, municipal, community, and school officials in Louisville, Kentucky, have managed to restring the red tape that can stretch among bureaucracies into lines of communication that allow everyone to know and support the community's education goals.

A software program links community organizations to the district's database, so those running the city's after-school programs know the subjects in which children need additional help, and then provide it.

"The community just puts its arms around the program," said Martin Bell, deputy superintendent of the Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky. "The community-based organizations are developing programs to meet kids' needs. That's one of the huge positive outcomes of this."

TRACKING KIDS

Jefferson County Public Schools is the first district in the nation with such a comprehensive system linking in-school and after-school learning.

The data-collection system that makes sharing information possible is called KidTrax, which is made by nFocus Software.


"The community just puts its arms around the program. The community-based organizations are developing programs to meet kids' needs. That's one of the huge positive outcomes of this."

"You can track money, kids, and resources," Ananda Roberts, president of nFocus Software, told Education World. "We are the only ones doing this with public education."

When an agency uses KidTrax, a youngster checks in to an after-school program with an identification card that is scanned into a computer. A staff member can look at a computer screen and see the subjects in which the student is struggling, and even if he or she played hooky that day. Parents or guardians sign a form agreeing to allow the school system to share their child's information with the after-school programs.

Then the after-school program staff members arrange for the student to receive individual tutoring or to work on a computer program to build skills in a particular subject area. School officials also can monitor which after-school programs are benefiting students the most.

A PERFECT FIT

School officials adopted KidTrax five years ago when they were looking for someone to create a software program that operated like KidTrax. "We needed a way to track effectively," Bell said. "We wanted to know how after-school programs could get information about kids they were working with so they could be helpful."

A member of the Boys and Girls Clubs mentioned he was investigating KidTrax for their use. The school system ordered it, and soon many of the community organizations were installing it. Now any community organization that provides after-school programming and receives city funding must agree to use KidTrax, although the city pays to have it installed, said Bell.

"We worked with after-school partners and providers; we had meetings with them, where we agreed to set some outcomes, and look at attendance," he added.

KidTrax is used in about 3,500 sites across the country to monitor kids signing into programs, but Louisville has the most comprehensive program, Roberts said. "No one else has taken a holistic approach to this."

Some companies that offer products similar to KidTrax are Social Solutions, YouthServices.net, and CitySpan.

"Using KidTrax has been real exciting," said Don Shaw, executive director of the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Clubs of Louisville, one of the participating organizations. "Before this, we had to do lots of legwork and time-consuming hand calculations."

While the system is working well in Louisville, other communities may be reluctant to adopt an inter-agency program because of the need to share information, Shaw added.

MEETING KIDS' NEEDS

KidTrax information also helps the local agencies to assess the effectiveness of their programs, so they can make adjustments based on students' needs.

That makes sense since often students spend just as much time at the Boys and Girls Clubs, which are open from 2:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., as they do in school, noted Shaw. "I say to the schools, 'You've got them for six hours, we've got them for six hours.' This gives us a clearer picture of the real needs of the kids. This allows us to identify kids not at grade level and set up specific programs to meet their needs."

Between 9 and 10 percent of the district's 97,000-student population attends programs monitored by KidTrax, noted Bell, and many of them are the students who need the most help. "This group [in the after-school programs] often is the most challenged population academically and economically."


"It's impossible now to separate schools from after-school programs. We need to have both working in tandem to enhance a child's educational experience."

Boys and Girls Club staff members in Louisville also stay on top of what's going on in neighborhood schools by talking frequently with teachers and administrators. Often the after-school program staff members even know the weekly spelling words for a particular grade, and will weave those into an activity. If children are shooting pool, they might have to spell a word correctly before taking a shot, Shaw said. Staff members also might bring a protractor to a basketball game and show the children the angle at which they need to shoot to get a basket.

While there has been some anecdotal evidence that students in after-school programs are doing better academically, the school system has found that students who attend the after-school programs do have a higher school attendance rate and behave better in school, said Bell.

One program on which all local agencies are cooperating is Every1Reads, a citywide initiative launched in 2003, with the goal of having every child reading at grade level by 2007. The Boys and Girls Clubs bought software to help teach reading, and recruited tutors to work with children who are reading below grade level to support that goal.

"The club has a set curriculum and schedule," said Shaw. "The first two hours are academic. Kids have homework time then tutoring in reading, math, or science. If we have a group of kids who need help with math or reading, we have a solid base of volunteer tutors, including older kids and parents of kids who used to belong to the club."

BUILDING LINKS

Developing the level of cooperation that exists among city agencies in Louisville has taken some time and some rethinking, according to Bell.

"We have nurtured and cultivated relationships with providers over the years," he said. "It's not a huge city -- we can know the youth providers and get them to the table."

Fifteen years ago, education and government officials began realizing they had more to gain from working together than assigning blame, Bell noted. "We were pointing fingers at one another about who was responsible for school performance," he said. "The legislators would ask why the kids weren't doing better, and we would say we were doing the best we could with the money we had and without support from the community. It just was not a productive conversation.

"The better conversation is for communities to work together," he said.

Linking schools and after-school programs only makes sense, added Roberts of nFocus. "It's impossible now to separate schools from after-school programs," she said. "We need to have both working in tandem to enhance a child's educational experience."

Software like KidTrax helps make that possible, Shaw noted. "Now we can see minute-by-minute the impact of having them [children] here," Shaw said. "We can see test results. This way we're all shooting for the same things -- academic success."

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