COLUMBIA — Members of the community suggested building a bridge to close the academic achievement gap. Now they have the funds to begin construction.
The Youth Community Coalition has received a five-year grant that will allow them to focus on connecting public school teachers and after-school programs that target at-risk youth, coalition coordinator Becky Markt said. The coalition will receive about $449,000 for the first year of the grant, and the grant is renewable for up to five years.
"We want to provide a bridge between the academic culture and the community culture so that they are able to learn from each other," she said.
Markt said that in order to accomplish their goal, the coalition will embed educators and counselors in schools and local after-school programs so that "real-time" data can be shared.
The initiative arose from conversations that took place during Columbia Public Schools' "World Cafe" last November that focused on determining causes and finding solutions to the disparity in academic performance between minority and disadvantaged students and their peers.
The ultimate goal of the new program, financed by the U.S. Department of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Center Project, is to enhance the work the after-school programs are already doing to "extend the school day" and ensure that students get the help they need to overcome obstacles and succeed academically, Project Coordinator Nicolle Adair said.
Each after-school program will have a counselor, teacher and parent-educator working together and providing resources to students and their families, she said. Their primary focus will be addressing unmet academic needs, but they will also collaborate to identify additional factors affecting students' performance in school.
"We're working with kids from early childhood on, so if the family needs services — like, if they need to be plugged into social services — we can help plug them into getting what they need," Adair said.
Program coordinators are still deciding how to best match the new staff with the needs of each after-school program, she said.
"What works at one site doesn’t necessarily work at another site," Adair said. "It's a process, and we want to do it right the first time."