Learning doesn’t stop at the sound of the school bell

When the bell rings and students head for the door at Highlands School about 30 of them make their way to The Literacy Council to relax, have fun, and to keep their minds sharp. Homework Helpers and After School Enrichment are two free programs available to all students of Macon County K-12.

At Homework Helpers, The Literacy Council has instructors on-hand to assist students with homework, research papers, and overall comprehension of the student curriculum.

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Ben, a Silver Labrador children’s therapy dog is always a favorite of the students when he visits The Literacy Council’s after school programs.

After School Enrichment is for the younger students and they work on homework in addition to sentence structure, vocabulary and comprehension. All students are given preparation for End of Grade testing, which is a new aspect of the program this year said Executive Director Bonnie Potts.

“This is new and they’ll be getting integrated prepping throughout the entire year,” said Potts. “It lets us gauge what they’re struggling with so we can help them remediate throughout the year. We give all the students assessments that are set up the same way as EoG tests.”

Potts added that if a student is struggling with a particular subject they can provide individual tutoring.

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Students use educational software to complete exercises focusing on a specific subject incorporating themes the students are interested in. Pictured above is Cassie McDowell working on math exercises.

Students also use computer software allowing them to challenge themselves in a variety of specific subjects.

“We try and find an exercise with a theme that is something they are interested in, so they are more engaged in the activity,” said Potts.

The programs are offered through the entirety of the school year.

“We extended our hours this year to give us more time to work on projects,” said Potts. “Plus, its easier on the parents. Homework is an everyday thing. We can’t be effective unless we work with them on a regular basis. It’s already shown a dramatic improvement in their test scores.”

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Miley Damien with Ben, a Silver Labrador trained in children’s therapy.

One of the students’ favorite activities is to read after they finish their school work. Often accompanying reading time is Ben, an 8-year-old Silver Labrador. Ben is a therapy dog, trained to work with children said her owner, Kay Nelsage.

“The kids will read to him and know he won’t correct them,” said Nelsage. “So they’re more apt to read out loud and sound things out; it relaxes them.”

She added that after the students have worked with teachers all day sometimes it’s best to remove them from the equation to make it feel less like learning, and more like entertainment. And it encourages the students to go home and read to their own pets.

“It’s a diversion from the more challenging books or if the student has an impediment,” said Nelsage. “They won’t be corrected, graded or judged. It’s just enjoyable reading time.”

Anytime the students see Ben coming around the corner the excitement builds.

“First we have a snack and then my brother reads stories to Ben, it’s so much fun,” said Yazmin Montalvo, 5.

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The students finish their homework before moving on to leisurely reading.

Lucy Delacruz, 9, said she enjoys eating snacks, playing outside, reading books.  However, she does have her favorite activity: computers.

“I love Ben and reading but I love being on the computers,” said Delacruz.  “I do like playing with Ben and laying next to him when I read to him.”

Tucker Wilson, 8, is always glad to be visited by Ben.

“He looks at the person reading and he just lays down and waits until they’re done with the story and then he talks,” said Wilson.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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