07/14/09 — Summer at school

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Summer at school

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 14, 2009 1:49 PM

Within the former Dillard High School, at the base of Elm Street, children are learning about rock formations in the corner of a converted classroom, while nearby several are nestled on a couch, reading independently.

At the other end of the building, 4-H representatives lead a group of students in an activity.

More than an after-school program, Dillard Academy, a charter school, shifted into the full-day operation to provide a place for its students during the summer months.

The Department of Social Services authorized the after-school program for parents who work or are in school, said Hilda Hicks, program director. Those who are able pay a regular fee, while others receive aid from DSS, she said.

A full-time daycare, which operates year-round, accommodates children from birth to age 5.

Other programs also sustain Dillard Academy.

"This summer, we've been fortunate enough to have just finished the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, which allowed us to do the after school program," Ms. Hicks said. When the grant ran out June 30, a dropout prevention grant allowed the school to provide summer activities.

Beyond providing child care and an array of fun activities during the summer months, "focused remediation," a summer school program for students who did not pass the end of grade tests, began July 6.

The four-week session -- five weeks if additional time is needed -- is structured around math and reading. Students are assessed at the outset, then regularly throughout the program to chart their progress before the end of grade retest is given.

Transportation is provided, and while the thrust is around academics, the full-day program also includes arts and crafts, music, garden activities and even coordinates athletic events with Parks and Recreations and the library.

"It gives the kids a place to go, somewhere that has the potential to meet their needs," Ms. Hicks said.

She is proud of the alternative, especially in light of the fact that funding was for most summer school programs were cut this year. And while the charter school is separate, it still falls under the umbrella of the public school system.

"We're funded from our dropout prevention funding and some local funds," she said. "The county commission also provides funding for all school-age children within the district, and Wayne County allocates local funds for the children that we serve."

This year, enrollment at the K-4 school was 144. The state's Department of Public Instruction has approved the school to serve 160 in the fall.

"We are making some inroads. We're growing," Ms. Hicks said. "Every year, we are experiencing growth. We have not reached parity with the state's schools but have with schools that have a similar population.

"Third-graders rocked the world with their math scores, but our reading scores, I'm not pleased with what we did in reading."

One thing the educators there have to address is students with special needs, which comprise 35 percent of the school population.

"Our approach is that we are looking to identify anything that impacts your child's learning," she said. "We feel if there's a disability, the earlier we can identify it and provide an appropriate intervention, the better."

Highly qualified elementary teachers staff the eight classrooms, Ms. Hicks said, all certified in the areas that they teach.

Class sizes are kept to fewer than 20 students, with a teacher, assistant and Foster Grandparent in each.

With a state budget anticipated soon, Ms. Hicks refuses to consider the possibility that funding for Dillard Academy will not be included.

"I'm not a fatalist," she said. "I worked with the feds (Social Security Adminis-tration) for 30 years, and they never allowed us to actually drown. I cannot believe that somebody will not come to our rescue. I'm acting as though we're going to continue to be funded at the level we have been, but I'm not sure of that.

"Yes, we were cut. Proportionately we received the exact same cuts as the state received. We have had teacher cuts, salary cuts for the entire staff, but I guess I just have to believe in a positive outcome."