Beyond the Bell program pays dividends

Before and after-school program shows positive standard impact


FORT MADISON – A before and after school program called Beyond the Bell is beginning to show positive results according to a presentation Monday night during the Fort Madison School Board regular meeting.
Beyond the Bell Director Keely Kangas gave the school board an update on data from the 2022-23 school year that showed literacy and math scores are improving for students in the program, compared to students who don’t participate in the program.
Kangas said she will be able to build on the program with a $1 million grant over the next five years from the Department of Education.
The program is the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Center grant program and awards close to $250,000 per year for the first three years and about 75% of that funding level the next two years after a review of the program.
The grant program will allow two Beyond the Bell sites at Richardson and Lincoln until the schools are combined in the fall of 2024 at the new facility on the current Fort Madison Middle School campus.
Kangas said goals are to increase attendance standards for the programs and to increase the number of students served to 80 students at Lincoln and 100 students at Richardson.
Board member Dianne Hope said she was concerned about the middle school still having a program. Kangas said numbers weren’t sufficient there to be able to use the Lowey funds for programming. However, she said there are still sufficient ESSER funds, which are Congressional funds appropriated during the COVID pandemic in March of 2020, to continue a program at the middle school outside of the Lowey funds.
“We will focus on life skill enrichment and very much on academic support and tutoring. So it will not be exactly the same as the last two years,” Kangas said.
She said the 21st century grant only allows the district to count the students in either the before or after-school program, but she will not keep a student from being able to participate in both if it benefits the families.
Kangas showed slides of the improved scores in literacy at both Richardson and Lincoln elementary schools and in math at both schools. However the results weren’t as compelling at the Fort Madison Middle School and the numbers weren’t as high.
A slide showing results of literacy testing at the middle school in grades 4-6 showed proficiency in literacy for students in the Beyond the Bell program at 54% in the fall and 46% in the spring in the category of being at or above standards. Those same percentages for students not in the program in grades 4-6 was 54% in the fall of 2022 and 50% for testing in the spring of 2023.
However, elementary performances seemed to be significantly improved. For example, Richardson kindergartners who participated in Beyond the Bell were 14% higher in being at or above fall 2022 literacy standards compared to students not in the program. Those same figures for first graders were 42% at or above standard compared to 32%.
Even more telling could be the students labeled “At Critical Risk”. Only 13% of students in the Beyond the Bell program in the fall were categorized as "At Critical Risk", while 26% of students not in the program received that designation.
Testing was done in the fall and again in the spring for grades K-6.
In an unrelated agenda item, the board approved 5-1 to approve a 3.5% increase for Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater for 2023-24 school year. The move adds a year to the rolling contract, making it a three-year contract.

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