Fun times after school

Luke Groskopf/Cortez Journal

BRAD WALTMAN of Trout Unlimited-Dolores River Anglers teaches a group of middle school students about correct casting form. The boys started out by learning how to tie the right knots, and once the weather warms up Waltman hopes to take them out to the Dolores River to test their fly-fishing skills.

By Luke Groskopf Journal staff writer

Cortez students are able to fly-fish, lift weights, light up the theater stage and get some extra learning help via an ongoing grant through the Colorado Department of Education.

Four public schools in Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1, as well as Southwest Open School, are beneficiaries of a grant called 21st Century Community Learning Centers. It allows Kemper, Manaugh and Mesa elementary schools, Cortez Middle School and SWOS to fund after-school targeted tutoring as well as a host of "enrichment activities."

Kemper Elementary and Cortez Middle School are in year three of a five-year grant, while Manaugh Elementary, Mesa Elementary and SWOS are just starting out in year one of a separate grant.

On the academic side, the grant pays for specialized tutoring for students with low standardized test scores or who are struggling to keep pace with their day-to-day classes.

"It builds confidence when students can ask questions, in a small group setting, based on material covered during class that day they may not have understood," said program director Trina Lee.

Along with the academic-reinforcement aspect, the grant also sets aside funds for enrichment activities - school jargon for, essentially, fun stuff.

Current offerings include fly-fishing, drama, hiking and nature photography, a writing/book club, alternative sports (badminton, ultimate Frisbee, pickleball, etc.) and weight lifting for middle school students. At the elementary level, there are programs for crocheting, cooking, beading and nutrition, among others, according to Lee.

The idea is to give students creative outlets so they use after-school hours constructively. Added benefits are picking up a new hobby, adopting healthy living habits and meeting new friends with common interests.

And, of course, a little extra help with literacy or other coursework.

21st Century grants originated in 1998. As of 2011, 1.6 million children around the country - mostly at high-poverty, low-performance schools - were taking part in the tutoring and activities. According to a 2009 report by Learning Point Associates, almost three quarters of teachers thought regular after-school program involvement improved in-class participation, homework completion and student behavior.

Lee was quick to recognize the Piņon Project Family Resource Center for being a willing partner in the after-school endeavors. She said the nonprofit organization has been generous in overseeing a fitness class and bringing nutritious snacks for elementary kids, as well as equipment for the alternative sports program.

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