JACKSON, Mich. — East Jackson Public Schools recently began a partnership with Highfields to help students who have fallen behind academically during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The after school program, Reaching Higher, works to get students in 7th through 9th grades back up to speed and gives them a chance to socialize.
“These are students that are coming of age to establish their identity and what they’re going to start thinking about themselves as an adult and what they’re going to be when they grow up,” he said. “They have all sorts of challenges in that area.”
Highfields project director Brenda Weck says they fit the niche of what the students needed the most at East Jackson.
“We have students who are academically at-risk and we’ve seen those students already make gains in their school,” she said. “Socially, we have some students on the autism spectrum and these are students who are not normally the social joiners. These students have already created friendships in the classrooms, have strengthened relationships with the staff of the school and are making huge gains and learning just different social skills that don’t come easily to them.”
The program offers academic and enrichment activities, including recreation, and also teaches life skills.
“Students have kind of slid backwards in their social skills and though we still have to have COVID precautions in mind and still keep some social distance, we’re able to interact with the students to get real life practice with their social skills and we work on communication and problem solving and conflict resolution. We’re able to make adjustments in real time and they make huge gains from that,” Weck said.
East Jackson Secondary School Principal Joel Cook said COVID was tough on students and staff.
“The inconsistency made it tough on students and on staff how that education is delivered, so any supplemental program we can do to help catch students up, greatly benefits us,” Cook said. “The best part about this program it’s not just the academic part, it’s the enrichment part. They’re playing board games and doing other creative artistic things where it doesn’t feel like school, it feels like something they want to do.”
So far, eight students signed up. School administrators expect that number to climb the more the word gets out about Reaching Higher.
“Math skills, for example, are something you want to practice daily,” Cook said. “COVID really disrupted that routine. So, the young man that came down to me yesterday was bragging because he was able to finish three of his math assignments because he had one on one help with one of our mentors down there to assist. It’s great to get that individual attention but also for students to refocus and learn how to school again.”
The program is free to students. Highfields provides participants with a “light supper” after school and sends them home on a bus, if necessary.
“If we can restore a sense of hope in the students that we can get life back on track for them and back on track academically, as if COVID didn’t happen, that would be ideal,” Doerr said.
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