The cafeteria at Beulah Elementary School was abuzz recently, as 62 students enjoyed an after-school snack before splitting into groups for an afternoon of homework and help from teachers.
The students are participants in the BEST program, an after-school program for third through fifth grade students and a before-school program for first through third grade students. BEST Coordinator, Lori Tatum, who is also a fifth-grade teacher, said the students are able to get help with homework and reading and math remediation in the afternoons.
The program started about four years ago, Tatum said, and its cost was covered by a grant for its first three and a half years. Beulah Elementary is now using Title I funds “so we can still do the program,” she said, though the program now ends at 5:30 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. and parents have to pick up their children.
“When we had the grant, we bought a lot of hands-on manipulatives,” she said. Now, those materials are stored in the math and language arts rooms so other programs have access to them, as well, she said.
The students are selected for the program based on teacher recommendations, scores on Standards of Learning tests, report cards and benchmarks, she said.
“Homework is a major problem,” Tatum said. “We have a lot of non-English speaking parents, so they’re unable to help [with homework]. So, we’re able to help with those children.”
After the school day ends, the students come to the cafeteria for a snack. “This is the only time they’re all together,” she said. “I don’t care if they get a little loud, because this is it” before they split into groups of eight to 10 students of the same grade level and head to the classrooms.
A couple of days a week, the third graders read and then get to talk to their group about the book, which sparks interest in the book in other students, she said. Once the groups go into their classrooms, the students have a specific spot to work. They also have access to the computer labs, and teachers can use the promethean boards in the classroom.
A total of five teachers, including Tatum, have been with the program since the beginning. “We’re getting support from Falling Creek Middle,” she said, and some teachers tutor at the middle school before coming to Beulah Elementary.
Tatum said teaching was her second career. “I got into it to see the light bulbs go off,” she said, which is one reason why she jumped at the chance to be the coordinator of the BEST program. Also, she gets to work with teachers she wouldn’t otherwise get to meet, she said.
Teacher, Ellen Pritchett, was working with students on reading strategies last week. She said, she thought the school’s Principal, Mary Jean Hunt, was crediting the program with the rise in the students’ test scores.
“The kids are getting assistance with homework and a lot of skills are getting re-taught,” she said. “I’m sure the program has made an impact.”