CLEARFIELD — Sarah Smith and Lillian Loshbaugh, both third graders at South Clearfield Elementary, say their favorite part of their after-school program is, believe it or not, homework time.
If you’re skeptical, consider their rationale.
They’re best friends, so they like the chance to work on their homework together, they said. But if they were working on it together outside of the program, they’d get distracted.
With an adult in the after-school program there to help them and keep them on task, they get the most out of their time spent doing homework — they get to be together, and they get their work done.
“It just makes you learn,” Loshbaugh said, shrugging. Smith nodded.
Homework skills aren’t the only ones they’ve polished in the program.
Both shared proprietary hula hoop moves they’d perfected during the first part of the program each day after school — a period that Courtney Ward, director of after-school programs for Davis School District, calls “wiggle time.”
Ward has been working with after-school programs for 23 years, about the same amount of time she’s been married, she said.
In early November, she was awarded with Utah Afterschool Network’s Utah Afterschool Program Director of the Year award for 2019.
Ward started working as an assistant after-school program director while she was finishing her teaching degree, then taught for a few years while also running her school’s after-school program.
She later transitioned to her current role with Davis School District, which is focused on running and evaluating all of the district’s after-school programs, though she has maintained her teaching credential, so she can return to full-time teaching someday.
Ward actually approached the district with the idea to start up the programs because of her past experience.
Her early time running programs while also teaching was in Iowa, but the majority of her career — 18 years — has been running after-school programs in Davis.
“I didn’t think I would do it this long,” Ward said. “I just kind of thought we would get it started ... and the next thing I know, it’s been that long.”
During that time, with the support of district administrators and grant writers, with whom she’s worked closely — the program has grown from six programs in its first year to 17 programs at elementary schools across the district, plus one at North Davis Junior High, serving a total of about 1,200 kids.
Costs for the programs, which run each day until 6 p.m., are subsidized, so the highest amount that a family would pay is $60 per month, though many families pay less based on income, and some pay nothing.
Starting this year, children are also provided with a free meal, Ward said.
Children don’t have to be enrolled at the school to participate in its program, Ward said, as long as parents can find a way to get their child to the school.
Information for parents interested in the district’s after-school programs can be found on the Davis School District website.
While principals hire the program directors at their schools, Ward trains, supports and evaluates them and the programs they run.
She also designs the programs, including lots of active time, creative activities and music, she said, though site-level directors also do a lot of planning.
“We have to teach the kids, but not let them know they’re learning,” Ward said.
This includes activities with science, technology, engineering art and math, called STEAM. The district has STEAM kits that the programs can check out, with tools like circuit boards that children can experiment with.
The programs have also done activities based on shows like “Shark Tank” or “Chopped”, where they have to present a business plan or create a meal with whatever odd ingredients have been provided to them.
Children get a chance to do these kinds of activities after wiggle time and homework time each day, Ward said.
“We really want to be an extension of the school day,” Ward said. “We want to work with the school day teachers.”
Program staff will ask teachers about specific students and which areas they need help with, Ward said.
Teachers also approach program staff to ask for support or make sure information gets home to parents — since children in the programs aren’t allowed to walk home, program staff see parents every day at pick-up time.
The programs also run before school, another potential touchpoint with parents.
Ward holds continuing professional development for program staff, offering an official after-school endorsement credential.
These combined efforts are why the programs have been successful in supporting children’s academic performance.
When they collect reporting data for grants, Ward says the biggest areas where they see improvements are turning in homework and improved behavior among children during the school day.
Parents find the homework time especially helpful, allowing children to focus on family time at home, Ward said.
Despite the programs’ successes, their future is uncertain.
One of the programs’ major funding sources is federal grant funding through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative.
In each of his three budget proposals since 2017, President Trump has proposed eliminating funding for the initiative, which supports after-school programs across the country.
Due to strong advocacy among the education and after-school communities as well as bipartisan support in Congress, the funding has not yet been cut.
“It’s always on the chopping block,” Ward said.