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After-school programs focus on digital literacy
Teachers taking ‘Learning Walks’
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Park Elementary School teacher Dara Tousley shows items purchased with grant money for after-school programs.

When the bell for dismissal rings shortly after 3 p.m. each day at Park Elementary School, more than 100 children still have part of their school day ahead of them. Park Principal Phil Heeke said 70 children in grades K-3 are in the Kansas Reading Roadmap after-school program, and 66 students in grades 4-6 are in other after-school programs, collectively known as PAwS (Park After School).

Two years ago, the school received a three-year grant from the Kansas Masonic Literacy Center, associated with Emporia State University, to support fourth and fifth graders in reading fluency. Heeke said the school has also used the grant to promote digital literacy. For example, Park kindergarten teacher Dara Touslee, PAwS coordinator, has started teaching students coding.

The school received $16,000 last year and $12,000 this year, Heeke said. Next year it will receive $8,000.

“With our grant money this year, we’ve been able to buy our own iPads for the students,” Touslee said. “We have a lot of neat interactive apps.”

Touslee said teaching kits and technology are expensive. A recent purchase for materials, including a program called “Inventors,” cost $3,000.

Earlier this year, teachers tried the Walking Classroom. Thanks to the Kansas Masonic Literacy Center grant, the class received “WalkKit” audio players for each student, preloaded with over 100 podcasts on topics including science, social studies and language arts.

“We take a 20-minute walk and listen to a pre-recorded lesson,” Touslee said. Park School teacher Eric Dowson used the Walking Classroom with the Summer School students. “Mr. Dowson said it helps listening comprehension,” she said.

The school also has a Leadership Club for fifth and sixth graders, Heeke said. Students in this group help plan school activities and community service.

Learning Walk for teachers

Heeke and Touslee reported on the Masonic grant update at Monday’s USD 428 Board of Education meeting. At the same meeting, instructional coaches from several Great Bend schools reported on a new program for teachers called Learning Walks. K-12 teachers volunteer to participate in this program that takes them into other classrooms while a substitute covers their own classes.

“The Learning Walk is a simple but potential game-changer,” one coach told the school board. “The purpose is to observe, not to evaluate.” And sometimes teachers find ideas they can “steal” for their own classrooms. “You never know what’s going to spark the interest of another teacher.”