February 23, 2021: Community Learning Centers

As part of our Safe and Successful Kids partnership with the City of Lincoln, our community has agreed to invest in Community Learning Centers offering programs that serve kids, families and neighborhoods as they strive to be successful, thriving and strong. Joining us to talk more about our Community Learning Centers is Director Nola Derby-Bennett

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Video Transcript

Mindy Burbach 0:17
All right. Hello and welcome to LPS Live Board Preview. I’m Communications Director, Mindy Burbach.

Don Mayhew 0:23
And I’m Don Mayhew, Lincoln Board of Education member. We started this Facebook Live program to share what’s happening at Lincoln Public Schools and answer your questions.

Mindy Burbach 0:33
If you have any questions during our live show, please type them into the chat on facebook and we’ll try to answer them as we can get to them.

Don Mayhew 0:40
As part of our safe and successful kids partnership with the City of Lincoln, our community has agreed to invest in Community Learning Centers offering programs that serve kids, families and neighborhoods as they strive to be successful, thriving and strong. Our Community Learning Centers continue to connect families and students to resources and tools during the pandemic. Tonight at the Board of Education meeting, the board will discuss a grant application to the US Department of Education for Full Service Community Schools funding as a way to increase student achievement, increase family and community involvement, and recruit and retain staff while also providing professional development. Joining us to talk more about our Community Learning Centers is Director Nola Derby-Bennett. Nola, welcome, and thanks for joining us.

Nola Derby-Bennett 1:29
Thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.

Don Mayhew 1:31
Nola, when some people hear about our Community Learning Centers, they think of it as before and after-school childcare. But it is so much more than that. Briefly describe some of the programming and what the CLCs is do in our 29 sites.

Nola Derby-Bennett 1:46
Yeah, well, you’re right in, in saying that we do provide before and after programming for students at all 29 of our CLC sites, K through 12. So nobody gets to escape CLCs. We follow them right up until they graduate. And the goal really is to carry on that academic and enrichment programming that happens during the school day, right into the after-school space. So families can expect high quality programming in areas like STEM, which is science, technology, engineering, and math, in literacy, in the arts, we do a lot of physical education and physical experiences, sports and you know, fitness experiences for students health and wellness, as well as socio-emotional programming and community engagement. So, you know, for students, it should look like it does during the day, except maybe just a little bit more active, a little bit more experiential in the after-school space. And then for family and community engagement. You know, we still we we’ve been very creative, but we’re doing a lot of people may remember community cafes, where families got together and kind of connected and talked with one another. And that’s still happening, but it’s happening virtually this year. And then we’re also doing things like, you know, fun nights, but it again, looks different. We have, we’ve hosted virtual bingo nights, we’ve hosted fitness challenges for families. So really, our focus is smart kids, thriving families and strong neighborhoods. So you know, what we know is that the more that we wrap around students, the better success they have at at being successful in school.

Don Mayhew 3:34
I think a lot of people when they think of it as before and after-school programs, thinking of it as daycare, they don’t realize those educational opportunities. One of the things that we do, though, is we collect data, and you’ve presented on this to the board before we have quite a bit of data tying gains or increases in student achievement to participation in the CLCs.

Nola Derby-Bennett 3:54
Yeah, absolutely we we can tell when a site has focused really heavily on one particular subject area or another. STEM tends to be a really easy after school experience, because there’s so many things that we can do with STEM. And we see those those scores reflected in students who participate in CLCs, we see their test scores, reflecting higher than their than their school peers who don’t participate in CLC.

Don Mayhew 4:26
Now an important part of the success of our CLCs are our community and agency partners who collaborate with us and serving families in our neighborhoods. How do we determine our community partners? What is the process for that?

Nola Derby-Bennett 4:39
Yeah, so um, you know, when a school is going to become a CLC school, so when we’re when we get the funding that we need in order to transition a school from a traditional before and after-school childcare type program into a CLC, one of the first things that we do is we put out a request for proposals, and so we reach out to a broad, consortium of community businesses and nonprofit partners, some of whom we already do partner with as lead agencies, but also, you know, we invite any application from the community. And they go through kind of a really extensive checklist questionnaire, telling us how they think that they would be the best school or the best agency to serve that school. And then parallel to that process, we also start working with leadership at the school. So we work with, of course, you know, you’re who you would expect us to work with administration, but we also connect with families, we connect with neighborhood residents. When we went through this process with Randolph, I actually went to one of their staff meetings and met with their teachers. And what I asked them was, what do you what does your school need in terms of a CLC? What would be the best possible partner for you? And and that’s really our goal is to figure out who the best possible partner is for each site. And when we went through the process with the new high schools that we added last year, I actually met with student groups, because that was really important to me to find out what what was it that the students wanted to have in their after school programming. What was going to be the personality of the agency that was going to draw them to, to the programming? And so once we get those pieces figured out, then we actually do an in-person interview with all of the finalist partner applicants. And, you know, there’s folks from my team on in that interview process, as well as again, the school leadership, people, neighbors from the neighborhood, we did have high school students sitting in on that process as well, teachers, other leadership from the school side and what we’re really looking for is finding like I said that right partner for, for that school, and we really want that decision to come from the school, we really want them to feel like they have chosen the best possible partner for for their school and to help them to meet the needs within their school neighborhood. So it’s a pretty involved process. It’s not just you know, one agency says, Hey, we have some capacity. It’s a really involved process of matching the right agency with the school and the needs that they have.

Don Mayhew 7:24
Sure. Trying to go for a true partnership.

Nola Derby-Bennett 7:26

Don Mayhew 7:27
The pandemic has had a huge effect on our classrooms, obviously. And I would expect that the services, the CLCs provide those kind of interactions, the need for that has probably increased during the pandemic, what are some of the ways that you’re serving students, families and neighborhoods?

Nola Derby-Bennett 7:43
Well, in the beginning, you know, we just like everybody else, we were making a shift last year. And what we were doing, especially with families in the neighborhood was we were, we were helping families find the resources that they needed in the neighborhood. So you know, whether that was a food resource or connection to appropriate internet access, so that they could get their kids on the remote learning. We did have one family call in and say we just need an antenna so we can log it, or so we can, you know, tune into the TV channel that was showing remote learning instructions. And so one of our school community coordinators was able to find an antenna for this family and go drop it off. So you know, I mean, really no, no need went un-addressed, we really, you know, did everything from food drop-offs to, you know, helping people navigate the unemployment application, so that they can file for unemployment. But we also knew that we had to continue to still serve students. And so you know, early on, and throughout the summer, we did a lot of remote programming, virtual programming, just like you saw a lot of other places doing. We did provide supplies for students, we actually did porch drop-offs. And, you know, we would set up a remote club and then order in all the supplies and sort them all out and then go around one afternoon and drop off materials so that students could have their activities for the next week. And now and we’ll and we even had in person programming that was happening during the summer, some of our partners were able to use their own, you know, locations, Northeast Family Center and Malone Center, are a couple of examples of locations that remained open because we still had families who were working essential workers who were working every day and needed a place for their kids to go so they supported summer school, remote summer school, if you remember last year, and and you know, they just stuck right with us the entire time making the adjustment just like the rest of us did. And now it’s kind of business as usual. I mean, we were, we’re in person in you know, after school every day. Kids come in, you know, transition just like they used to, from the school day, right to after school, they get their snack, and then they go into clubs. And a lot of times our clubs are are zoom instruction. And so it’s kind of the opposite of remote learning where we have all the kids in the classroom, but the teacher zooms in. And so we do a lot of of that. And it’s really kind of opened up some amazing experiences for us, we, we had some kids who were participating in a mission to Mars club. And so last week’s landing on Mars was like, really, it really hit home for them, because they’ve been working with NASA engineers zooming into their school at Arnold, learning about what that takes to get a to get a rover to Mars. So we’ve actually been able to open up some really cool experiences because of Zoom.

Don Mayhew 10:51
Neat. One of the effects on the classroom of the pandemic was that we had to have teachers and staff working with children to wear masks, socially distance, wash their hands. And I know that that continued into the students time in the CLCs and your staff had to continue that education in that monitoring. What was that? Like?

Nola Derby-Bennett 11:11
Um, you know, I think in the beginning, it was, it was a little bit of a heavy lift. And the biggest reason for that was because we have a much smaller staff, we have a much, you know, our partners come in with a much smaller group of adults to help manage and monitor some of those things. So in the beginning, you know, there was nerves, just like everywhere else, you know, where it was, how are we going to do this? How are the kids going to keep their masks on but to be honest, between the school day and all of the support that they got, during the school day, the transition to after school, and because of the the groundwork that we’ve laid for so long about, you know, CLC is just another part of your school day, it didn’t feel different for the students, and they knew what the expectations were. So, you know, a lot of nerves for not a lot of actual in practice concerns.

Don Mayhew 12:03
And I’ve heard that from many sources, kids are resilient. That’s a good reminder, and this has become their new normal. Tonight, the Board of Education is going to hear about the application to the US Department of Education for the Full Service Community Schools funding, why are we applying for this grant? And how will it help our CLCs?

Nola Derby-Bennett 12:23
Well. So really, it continues to carry on our strategic goals, we back in 2015, developed a strategic plan that had two big, broad focus goals, broadening and deepening the work of the Community Learning Centers. And so one of the things that we know is that something that sets a site back is staff turnover specifically. And so if this will give us an opportunity to really do some intentional recruiting of, you know, well-prepared and well-qualified staff members in our CLCs. And then we will really focus heavily on doing a lot of good professional development, really deepening the knowledge base and the professional skills of our after school staff at every level, from our school community coordinators to a 10 hour a week, part time staff member. And then we really want to focus on retention. And so you know, kind of stopping the the exodus of wonderful staff, people who we put a lot of effort into, but then they leave and go on to do other things we want to, we want to really focus on keeping people in, in the jobs that they’re being successful in. And so we’re going to do some focused recruiting in our neighborhoods, we want to work with our school neighborhood advisory committees and bring in representative staff members from the from those neighborhoods, family and friends who look like the students who attend the schools in those neighborhoods. And so, you know, just really focusing on the professionalism of our field and, you know, really wanting to bring in the best quality staff that we can have in our in our CLCs. So that’s a big focus that we’re working on. And then we’re really also focusing on enhancing our pipeline partnerships. So you know, we’ve got great things happening in Lincoln Public Schools that are, are really great examples of Full Service Community Schools, so things like jumpstart to kindergarten and summer school wraparound programs so that students have a place to be all day at school during that month of june of June when students are attending summer school in the morning, teammates mentoring. So we really want to focus on enhancing some of those pipeline services that help you know, continue to provide the high quality experiences that our students and their parents are expecting from us. This is a kind of some of the focuses of that of that grant application.

Don Mayhew 15:00
Yep. And it sounds like a neat opportunity. And I’m glad that we are applying for some of those funds. For the folks who are watching that don’t know, what are some of the other sources of funding for the clcs.

Nola Derby-Bennett 15:09
So all of our CLC sites have 21st century Community Learning Center’s funds, that’s a, those are federal dollars that are earmarked specifically for Community Learning Centers, those dollars run through the Nebraska Department of Education, and all 29 of our sites start with those dollars. And then we also, of course, have the interlocal funding through the safe and successful kids interlocal that helps with some administrative support at our office so that we can actually pull off all of this great work that’s happening, as well as a lot of programming dollars. We also have funding from United Way, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, Lincoln Community Foundation, Woods Charitable Fund, Sherwood Foundation. And you know, our partners are big contributors, our partners contribute about 28% of our overall budget, through their own fundraising efforts in their in their budgets every year. So you know, it’s a very braided financial system. But without any one of those local partners, it would be difficult to pull this work off. So we really need all of those partners to continue to, you know, to be there and to support and even if we can bring in a nice federal grant that just helps us to deepen and broaden that work that we’re doing in the community.

Don Mayhew 16:24
All right, that’s all the time we have Nola, thank you so much for the work that you and your staff do in our schools every day. And for everybody else that’s watching, be sure that you join us for our regular board meeting that’s going to be starting soon at 6pm. And you can watch it on our website at lps.org or on the LNK TV education channel.

Mindy Burbach 16:44
Our next LPS quarter update will be on Facebook on Friday, March 19th at noon, just a reminder, you can submit your questions on the LPS Facebook page or on our website lps.org. Look for the blue contact us button. And with that, thank you for joining us