21st Century Grants support the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. The program helps students meet state and local student standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and math; offers students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs; and offers literacy and other educational services to the families of participants children. (21st Century Community Learning Centers)
Even with a well-developed program such as what occurs with the rigors of 21stCentury Grants, a challenge is to motivate middle school students who have been in school all day to attend and participate in extended learning opportunities. What happened at Lincoln Middle School was the merging of two efforts, both designed to improve the quality of services provided. The first was the implementation of an exergaming lab designed to use exercise to improve attention and behavior during the school day. The second was a 21st Century Grant that funded a supportive environment for kids who need additional tutoring to support their academic achievement. The following testimony demonstrates how these two efforts merged to fundamentally change the success of a 21stCentury Grant program.
I have been coordinating after-school and summer school programs at Lincoln Middle School for the last four years.Our program is federally funded by a 21st Century Grant, for which qualified schools may apply. To be eligible, a school needs to have a high percentage of students on free and reduced lunch, and a high percentage of students with below proficiency test scores. The grant provides funding for after-school interventions that support academics.
Attendance for our after-school programs has been a challenge from the start. Attendance is not mandatory, thus there is little incentive for students to stay for additional help. In addition, there is often little or no support at home encouraging them to try something new and get needed academic support. I have tried to come up with activities that interest them, embedding academics or mentoring where possible. What I’ve foundis that even if it “smells” academic, they are reticent to sign up, and, ifthey do, it can be difficult to retain them.
This year our school was the recipientof a local grant that allowed us to put in an Exergaming lab that uses videogames that can only be activated with exercise. After being disappointed andfrustrated with prior attempts, I was excited at the idea of using the lab as ameans to hook the students into coming to the 1 hour 45 minute sessions ofacademic support. Now students start their sessions with 15 minutes of fun, yetchallenging, exercise on the Exergaming equipment before moving to tutor. They enjoy playing with their friends while,at the same time, the exercise prepares their brains to learn. It has been veryencouraging to see that attendance has increased and is now pretty consistent. Students who had not previously attended – even those who for years had refusedto participate – are now taking advantage of our after-school program and benefiting from it.
Overall the Exergaming lab has been an amazing tool to motivate students to attend critically important tutorial sessions. The reason I’m so excited is that the stakes are so high for these kids. We have been working so hard to give them the support they need in order to close the achievement gap and be more successful in life. We have finally found a tool to get the students to attend in order for them to take advantage of what’s being offered.
21st Century GrantCoordinator
Amy’s story is yet another example of how Exergaming can provide assistance to the overall educational experience. We know that exercise improves behavior, learning, and fitness, but when achieved in a gaming environment we have the added benefit of motivation to regularly participate.