A local non-profit organization dedicated to helping children in the community through a variety of ways has achieved one of its main goals again.
Recently released scores from local schools show students who participated in the Cities In Schools’ after-school program during the 2013-14 school year scored at average or slightly above average in mathematics and reading, according to Sara Kerley, executive director of Cities In School.
“Our kids were right on average or slightly higher in all groups,” Kerley said. “This is very, very exciting for us. The staff and the kids work so hard throughout the year, but you have those days where you wonder ‘are we really making an impact?’ And we are making a difference.”
Cities In Schools, in its 25th year, operates as a bridge to the local school districts by providing learning-based after-school and summer day camp programs. Both programs focus on preparing students for being successful in the classroom. The organization’s main goal is to aid children in improving their literacy levels in math and reading.
To ensure the program stays on target, Cities In Schools measures its success through the children’s scores on the Rasch UnIT, a measurement scale developed to simplify the interpretation of test scores.
The after-school program for pre-kindergarten through fifth graders reaches 100 children during the school year. The children receive a meal through a partnership with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. Next, children dive into homework help and customized tutoring for those who need it most. Each day features an activity centered on improving literacy or math skills.
Kerley says the after-school program relies on communication from schools and parents to help reach the students who may be struggling in an area.
“We are the bridge between the schools and the parents,” Kerley said. “The teachers will contact us about a student that they think needs more help or assistance in an area. We encourage them to reach out. We want the teachers and parents to call about struggles a kid may have. That way we can do what needs to be done to help that kid.”
Despite recent test scores, the Cities In School staff and volunteers have witnessed the success of the after-school program as the school year progresses.
“We had a kid who had never been on the honor roll before, and by the end of the year, they made the superintendent’s honor roll,” Kerley said. “We had a first grader who couldn’t read, and after two weeks here, he was reading on his own.”
Cities In Schools also integrates literacy programs that children are familiar with from their time in school. The organization had access to MyOn, a digital library program Ardmore City Schools students could access outside the classroom. Thanks to donations from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, AR books and materials are on book shelves for Cities In Schools children, who read AR books daily in elementary school.
“Our focus has always been reading and math, but we work to develop good relationships with the kids and their parents,” Kerley said. “There is a lot of hugs and high fives here.”
This past week, Cities In School staff switched gears as more than 300 children began arriving daily for the summer day camp program at St. Mary Catholic Church. The camp operates under a similar philosophy, aiming to improve each camper’s literacy skills and increase math proficiency before the end of camp on July 24.
Between the lessons on reading and math, campers do participate in arts and crafts, media, music, drama, computer, physical education and life classes. Campers also receive breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack through a partnership with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.
Kerley says the camp strives to present all lessons in a fun and engaging manor, while still maintaining a structured similar to a day at school.
Campers come from all over, including north Texas, to participate in the annual camp. A majority of campers attend Plainview and Ardmore school districts, Kerley says.
“I always hear from teachers that they can tell which students attended the summer camp, because the summer camp kids are the ones who haven’t lost their skills over the summer,” Kerley said. “They are ready to go when school starts.”