Several East Texas school districts are trying out a new
after-school program called University Academy.
Winona ISD kindergarten through eighth grade students are
being offered the Texas Afterschool Centers on Education, or ACE program,
through a grant provided by the Texas Education Agency.
The program will allow the district to provide several hours
of extra time aimed at hands-on learning.
In order to get the grant that funds the program, Winona ISD
school buses are leaving later this year.
"Instead of running at 3:15 p.m., we've pushed the bus back to 4:15
p.m. and that way we can make our numbers for the grant and make sure that we
meet those qualifications," says Denise Shetter, superintendent for Winona ISD.
Class at Winona ISD is over at 3:15. Parents can then pick
up their children, but anyone who rides a bus doesn't get to leave until an
hour later. Some parents say keeping some students longer just because they
ride the bus is not fair.
"If we can't pick them up then we have no say so we can't do
anything about it because they control the buses, so we're left out of the scenario," says a
concerned Winona ISD parent.
The district says that hour is homework time.
One parent says this week his student didn't get home until just
after 5 o'clock, still had homework, and hadn't eaten since 11 a.m.
The school district says bus routes are still changing and the extra
hour of time with teachers should help students finish their homework before
Monday through Thursday, after 4:15, the district is going to
start offering a series of elective classes to students in kindergarten through
eighth grade as part of the school's University Academy program.
"The target is to really be able to take knowledge that we're
trying to teach them to begin with in a real life situation, and have some fun
while we're at it," Shetter says.
Melisa Gramberry hopes the program will show her daughters how
school work translates to real life.
"Seeing how those types of things, science, engineering, and math,
apply in daily life and the fun things that you can do with that. They learn
that in those classes then take that into the world and say, ‘Hey maybe I'll
have a career out of this,'" Gramberry says.
The University Academy classes will be optional, so students who don't
want to participate can leave on a bus at 4:15.
The grant allows Winona ISD to pay pre-k teachers to stay with
their students until 4:15, it also allows the district to pay high school
teachers to tutor any high school bus riders until 4:15.
Shetter is asking parents and students for patience as they work
out some kinks, "Right now to a kiddo it's like, 'Oh bummer, I've got to sit
here and do my homework and it's not like I can weasel out because I have to
sit here until the bus runs.'"
But Shetter believes the program will make the whole district
"What's best for our kids? Most of our
kids could use extra help and a lot of our parents could use some time getting
homework done," Shetter says.
She hopes once the University Academy
classes start, kids won't even be thinking about the extra time.
Winona ISD is working to put out a
course catalogue so parents can see what classes will be offered. Students who
enroll in those classes will be able to take a school bus home as late as 6:30.
The district says every student who
takes the bus home at 4:15 will be given a snack.