BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Federal relief funds are being put to use to create new and innovative supplementary education programs in area school districts.
Fort Madison is using what is called ESSER, or Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, funds to create a Jumpstart program, while Central Lee has put together a Hawks’ Place after-school program.
Marge Lightfoot, who’s spent close to three decades in the Central Lee district as a librarian, will coordinate the Hawks’ Space, while Keely Kangas has been brought in to lead Fort Madison Community School District’s new program, as well as its after-school program.
Kangas has spent the past three years working with the Mississippi Valley Council Boy Scouts program, and has been a community partner with the Burlington PIECES program.
“My experiences have really given me a deeper appreciation and understanding of the student’s social-emotional needs and ensuring that they are in a “learning mindset,” Kangas said.
“That is part of the goal of Jumpstart – to help give students a boost in getting into the “learning mindset.” Our students have had a very disruptive past 18 months academically and socially, and we want to support them as whole students. We want to help them feel prepared for success inside and outside of the classroom.”
The Jumpstart program that began Monday is for students in grades K-9 and will run until school starts later this month. Kangas said the value of engaging students with peers before school begins has many benefits, including getting that learning mindset started a little sooner.
She said the after-school programs will have a very strategic approach of direct academic and student specific support for scheduled times as well as enrichment and fun programming during scheduled times.
“Learning is fun and we want our students to feel that way,” Kangas said.
Lightfoot said the Central Lee after-school program will start after Labor Day and will be capped to the first 120 students.
At Monday’s Central Lee registration, Lightfoot said she had more than 90 parents answer a survey on how the after-school program could be structured.
“We had questions on there about student’s age, what times work best, transportation and program specific questions,” Lightfoot said. “And we’re here until 8 p.m. so we’re happy with the response we’ve had to the survey.”
Central Lee Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier said the program is paid for with CARES Act funding from the federal government for the first two years.
“If all goes well, then we’d have to either look into budgeting for the program or look into what grants are still out there two years from now.”
Lightfoot said she envisions a more structured curriculum than the typical after-school day care setting.
“We’ll have some homework time, so there’ll be help with homework. There will be some STEM time and enrichment program with it, and of course they’re will be some recess time where there is a structured activity.”
She said the results of the survey will help determine if parents in the district are looking for Monday through Friday or just several days a week due to other activities going on with students.
The new Central Lee Prek-8 building commons area will be a large part of the program in addition to the library and several classrooms, and then possibly the multi purpose room with the new gym coming on line at the high school.
Kangas said the Jumpstart and after-school programs in Fort Madison will also provide needed homework support, as well as introduce them to skills and valuable lessons not taught in a traditional school-day curriculum.
“We are able to help students learn these non-classroom skills through partnerships with local organizations like Elliott Test Kitchen, Iowa State Extension Office, YMCA, and Lee County Conservation,” Kangas said.
“We want our students to know Fort Madison and to know what being a part of this community offers them. We want them to feel connected to our local businesses and feel comfortable visiting them.”
Kangas said she’s interested in what other schools are doing and looking for collaborations.
“My hope is that other school districts are looking at ways to be serve their students and their families, too. I would love to be able to collaborate and connect with others in positions like mine,” she said. “The more ideas the better!”
She said her vision that students who participate in the After-School program long term, will leave our programs with those lie skills necessary for personal success and responsible living with a desire to give back to the community who supported them.”
Funding for both programs is through the ESSER program through 2024.
Registration for Fort Madison’s Jumpstart has closed for this year, but families can now register for the After School program. All the programs are free to families with children in Kindergarten through Eighth grade.