For Jeannette Harris, summertime communication and visits with her Fort Wayne Community Schools students and families aren't unheard of.
What's unusual is the way she's engaging with students this summer – a few hours a day at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne.
Harris watched 8- and 9-year-olds dance during a Thursday morning break at the organization's main campus on Fairfield Avenue as another FWCS teacher sat in a nearby classroom where teens participated in a discussion about careers.
Placing FWCS teachers at various community sites – the Euell A. Wilson Center, Parks and Recreation centers, YMCA locations and other Boys and Girls Clubs facilities – for two four-week sessions is a first for the 30,000-student district, said Matt Schiebel, a secondary education director.
The effort helps broaden FWCS' summer reach to children not participating in Jump Start, the district's academically focused K-8 summer program at Blackhawk and Memorial Park middle schools, Schiebel said.
The school district's renewed focus on summer learning followed a nontraditional school year marked with remote learning, quarantines and other challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
Superintendent Mark Daniel in the spring talked publicly about student learning gaps, and state standardized test scores released last week underscored the task ahead for students and teachers. About 25% of students in grades three through eight were deemed proficient in English language arts and 22% were in math. Just 15% passed both portions of the ILEARN exam.
Like other districts receiving federal coronavirus relief dollars, FWCS must spend part of the funding to address learning loss. It is using this funding to compensate the educators working at the Boys and Girls Clubs and other partner sites, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.
She noted federal emergency relief funding is available through 2024. That timeline is an “important recognition that this didn't happen overnight and will take awhile to get back on track” to meet district and state goals, she said.
Extraordinary times require extraordinary efforts to ensure youth progress academically, said Joe Jordan, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs. The organization's programming addresses academic success, healthy lifestyles, and character and leadership.
“I applaud FWCS for their innovative and creative approach to expanding their reach outside of the walls of the school buildings and engaging the community partners in this process,” Jordan said in a statement. “We are thrilled to team up with FWCS to help our youth during these unprecedented times.”
The teachers find ways to support existing curriculum, helping with small-group instruction and supplementing reading strategies.
Harris said they've talked with students about ways to calm down, such as by taking deep breaths, dancing or drawing, and how talking can be a good outlet. She said the room she is in has a calming corner students can get permission to use.
The partnership between FWCS and the Boys and Girls Clubs is an especially natural fit because they share more than students. Both, for example, incorporate STEM learning – science, technology, engineering and math – and they each use hydroponic gardens as learning tools.
At the Boys and Girls Clubs, FWCS teachers aren't expected to provide discipline, so their sole purpose is to support the children, said Diana Swayze, director of program quality and evaluation.
“I get to see them in a more relaxed environment,” said Harris, a behavior support teacher typically at Price Elementary School.
Harris said she agreed to participate in the summer initiative because she hoped to continue building relationships with students. Consistent rapport with students can ease the transition to a new academic year, she said.
“And I've made new friends – lots of new friends,” she said as the children settled into their seats for their next activity.
Suzanne Jones Brooks, a sixth grade teacher at Jefferson Middle School, appreciates the opportunity to work with teens in a different capacity. She has the flexibility to have conversations with teens when they don't want to do an activity, she said.
“It's a lot different from school,” said Jones Brooks, who recently became involved with the organization's Smart Girls program. It provides a safe setting to address health and social issues.
Jones Brooks sees the potential of carrying some elements from the Boys and Girls Clubs to Jefferson. Schiebel noted that's another example of how the organization and FWCS are intertwined.
“They're our kids,” Schiebel said, returning to a theme he and Swayze reiterated Thursday.
Jones Brooks is ready to sign up for another summer at the Boys and Girls Clubs.
“If given the opportunity,” she said, “I definitely will do it again.”