Florence School District 5 hopes new after-school program will combat COVID-19 learning slide

Pee Dee

Courtesy: City of Johnsonville

JOHNSONVILLE, S.C. (WBTW) — After a rough year and a half, Allana Prosser hears laughter in the halls again. 

“It is a very hopeful situation,” said Prosser, the superintendent of Florence School District 5. “You don’t realize how much you miss it until you can hear that big buzz in the room. It will make you tear up.”

The district hopes that laughter also comes with improved behavior and educational gains for the students who need it the most. 

Florence School District 5 implemented a new after-school program at Johnsonville Elementary School in the middle of September, transforming what was previously a paid daycare-like setting into a free, educational and athletic experience. The program is funded by the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, which will give the district $200,000 annually for four years to fund it.

“I have seen a lot of enthusiastic little children,” said Mirandi Squires, the program’s director and the principal of Johnsonville Elementary School. “They come in there with a pep in their step and ready to go.”

Two hundred of the school’s 500 students have applied. A hundred students were accepted into the program, and another hundred remain on the waiting list.

“For there to be that many applicants, we really see the need for an after-school program,” she said. “It just stood out to us that there is a need here.”

Students are separated by grade level, with 10 to a pod in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The program runs from about 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. to help working parents. It also provides a snack time, recess, homework tutoring, sports and curriculum. There’s a social and emotional learning program to teach students about their emotions and how to communicate them, a drama program where students will act out life from different countries and an interactive, mobile robot that will help students with math. 

“The robot has different questions and does different things with the students,” said Allison Odom, the program’s coordinator and a teacher at Johnsonville Elementary School. 

She said admission was based on a formula that prioritizes students who were in the previous after-school program, have English as their second language and students who need extra academic, physical and emotional support. Students have to attend the program at least 85% of the time or they will be dropped from it. 

Prosser is excited for students who have been isolated due to the virus to have new social opportunities. She’s also hopeful about the academic impacts that’ll come out of it.

“We are going to close that achievement gap that happened because of COVID, and this program is going to help with that,” Prosser said. 

Squires said the elementary children need something after school to spend their time on. 

“We don’t have a lot of opportunities for these kids in the area, and we are very thankful,” she said.

The students will also have an extra adult in their lives. 

She hopes that it will give the children a burst of enthusiasm to help them turn over a new leaf.

“I believe in my heart that this is going to be one of the best programs we’ve had in Florence School District 5 since I’ve been here,” she said.

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