A Model Community Learning Center
By Katie Riley
Amazing! That was my reaction to visiting the Forest Grove Community Learning Center (CLC). And I kept repeating it. It was also jealousy—why can’t every student in Washington County have the opportunity to participate in such a center?
Let’s begin with the setting. 500 fifth and sixth grade students served by two schools (Tom McCall Upper Elementary and Echo Shaw) congregate after class in the cafeteria at 2:15-2:30 p.m. for a snack prepared by district food service workers. That is 64% of the 780 students in those grades at the schools. Backpacks neatly line the hallways in preparation for their next activity. Students spend time chatting with friends while eating healthy foods. Between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m. they have a chance to just hang out or go into the gym. This activity – or lack of activity – is based on student responses to questionnaires which assess their activity preferences and are then built into the program by the coordinator, Gwen Torsen. Torsen is a Counselor at Tom McCall Upper Elementary. At 2:45 p.m. the students stream into the hallways to go to their “Club” activity, which they chose from 26 club options. Clubs are predominantly “taught” by certified teachers and range from Adelante Mujeres’ Chicas program to Roots and Shoots, Choir, Band, and Orchestra. The clubs include enrichment information and build student skills and broaden their perspective. From 4-5 p.m., academic classes focus on fluency, literacy, and math. These classes, taught by licensed teachers, recruit kids who are performing lower than the 20th percentile in school. Once the students perform over the 50th percentile, they “graduate” out and other kids come in to take their place. The classes help kids get to the next level in their academic performance. Buses from the school district take participants home at 4 or 5 p.m., depending on their schedules. There is NO charge for participation. Every student who participates for 30 days receives a CLC T-shirt that they are proud to wear.
Other services include a Summer Transition Program for fifth graders. In addition, a Parent Summit was provided this past year. Counselors taught sessions on childhood and teen development in both English and Spanish.
How can this happen? First, there is the cooperation of the school district in encouraging participation by staff at all levels and by subsidizing the program through building use, supplies, and Title I funding for school bus transportation home. There is also volunteer participation and cooperation with non-profits such as Adelante Mujeres. And, then there is the federally funded 21st Century Grant awarded through the Oregon Department of Education. For $250,000/year, it is possible to hire teachers and staff as well as provide other materials. Supplemental grants have bought Chromebooks that enable students in the math, literacy, and fluency groups to work on their tasks. But a key ingredient is the organization through Gwen’s coordination and tracking. Since the program is sponsored by Forest Grove School District, she can track every student’s participation and progress. The mission is to remove barriers and make sure equity is a focus. In coordinating the new grant application, she and her team built in additional features—partnering with another school, increasing enrichment classes to 43, and including two Parent Summits.
As we struggle to ensure that other students in Washington County have a similar opportunity, we are reminded that the CLC program is funded by a grant that only lasts for five years and applications for renewal must change to have new features each time. The current grant ends this year. The new application has not yet been approved.