An impoverished city elementary school where parental involvement is up 75 percent since a community initiative threw its support behind the neighborhood has won a five-year federal grant potentially worth $800,000 to build an after-school program.
Lincoln Elementary School, on Springfield’s south side, will receive a first-year award of $200,000 to open the Lincoln 21st Century Community Learning Center on Oct. 1.
It will be the school’s first after-school program in recent history to operate after every school day, giving select students in grades 2-5 valuable extended learning time in reading and math.
But, it also will provide something that’s perhaps invaluable — a sit-down meal each evening for the students and their families.
“This could be a game changer for a lot of people we serve,” said Bob Welker, project coordinator for the Springfield Promise Neighborhood, which was established in the Lincoln area four years ago to ensure that the children there are school-ready by kindergarten and college or career-ready by graduation.
The Promise Neighborhood helped develop Lincoln’s winning grant application and will serve as a partner in the new after-school program.
So far the first Promise Neighborhood in Springfield, the Lincoln area was picked as something of a pilot project locally, in part because it’s such a defined neighborhood, according to Welker, a professor emeritus of education at Wittenberg University.
The neighborhood consists of 110 blocks and 4,800 residents, Welker said, but also has another distinction.
“It has the highest poverty rate of the (Springfield City School District) student population,” he said.
Lincoln will have to submit a renewal application annually for the grant, and joins Fulton and Perrin Woods elementary schools as the third city school to receive the state-administered 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant. The grant is to be used to serve at-risk students during non-school hours.
For sixth graders at Lincoln, the school has had, and will continue, a literacy-based after-school program called the Adventure Club that meets twice weekly.
That program, done in partnership with the Promise Neighborhood and Wittenberg, has proven to be popular — albeit after a name change.
“It started out as the Book Club,” Principal Mike Wilson said, “but that wasn’t very attractive.”
Wilson, in his fifth year at Lincoln, said statistics show that the only way at-risk children can catch up academically is through extended learning time.
“This is our chance to provide that extended learning time,” he said. “This is a chance for our kids to achieve the American dream.”
“Our kids are still running uphill,” he added, “but they’re running faster.”
This was Lincoln’s second attempt at the grant that’s considered highly competitive.
The new after-school program initially will serve 15 percent of Lincoln’s roughly 400 students, and students will be nominated to participate by their teachers.
“The teachers,” Wilson said, “are in the very best place to make those decisions. They’re with them every single day.”
The program will run from 3 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and will feature a mix of learning and fun, ending each day with a family dinner.
“Ten hours in one place is a long day for anybody,” Wilson confessed. “You can’t just hammer them with academics.”
Already, the added efforts in the neighborhood are having the intended effect.
Since the Promise Neighborhood began, Welker said parental engagement at conferences and other after-school events at Lincoln has jumped 75 percent.
Earlier this summer, Promise Neighborhood took 110 students and residents on a free trip to the Columbus Zoo.
“We need a good school for kids,” Welker said, “but we also need a good neighborhood.”
Dedicated local coverage
The Springfield News-Sun is committed to writing about the good things happening in Springfield, including extensive coverage of the Promise Neighborhood program, which includes a 110-block area in the city.