Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

LEARNING HAVEN ; Westbrook Evolution Trailer Brings After-School Program to Students

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

LEARNING HAVEN ; Westbrook Evolution Trailer Brings After-School Program to Students

Article excerpt

"I just love school because I love to learn," says Highland first-grader Madison. Madison sits at a table in a trailer in the Westbrook Mobile Home Court, sipping fruit punch and munching on a snack of peanut butter crackers. Madison is one student in a group of Highland students who participate in after-school tutoring and other programs such as a robotics competition group and a Girl Scouts troop at the new gathering place for students set in the mobile home court.

Some student weren't taking part in the afterschool programs at Highland, so the school took the programs to them.

Students living in the community have access to these educational and fun supports within a trailer donated by the EVSC that sits on land donated by the mobile home court, thanks to the passion of a team of school members and the late-night vision of one teacher. They recognized a disturbing trend and set about to make some changes.

Sherry Ocker has been teaching for more than 15 years but joined Highland as a kindergarten teacher five years ago. Ocker came to Highland from a title school, a school whose student population is low enough on the poverty scale (more than 90 percent) to warrant extra funding for school-offered services. These schools work hard to create a sense of community in the school by offering activities and support to families that helped improve ISTEP scores and student grades.

At her previous school, Ocker saw children benefit from supports such as tutoring and increased parental involvement, but after- school programming offered at Highland wasn't attracting the same kind of participation from the students and their families as Ocker expected.

Working with fellow teachers, school administrators and a panel of parents selected to provide constructive feedback and brainstorm practical solutions, Ocker set out to examine the available data about students and their community and to come up with a plan to get those struggling with poverty every opportunity to succeed in school.

Principal Beth Johns said the data showed students in poverty were not as good readers nor could they do math as well as the other students. The team wanted a program that addressed the lives of the families and the children, not just academically, but emotionally and socially as well.

A series of meetings gave the team time to review test scores and demographic information. Johns said half of the school's students in poverty came from the Westbrook community. "If we could make a huge impact there," she said, it would reach the most students.

Johns said when they met with parents, they learned parents kept their children inside their trailers when they got home from school, fearing it wasn't safe for them to be outside. Also, transportation was an issue in students attending afterschool programs.

Ocker and the team, including Johns and then-assistant principal Catherine Minihan, brainstormed various ideas to make tutoring and supports available and practical for these families, but the solution came late at night in flash.

Ocker recalls lying in bed and wondering what had happened to various trailers used at schools during renovations. She imagined setting a trailer in the mobile home court designed solely to offer school and community support, and activities that could provide the kids both educational and social opportunities.

Ocker spoke with her team, her school administration, and she eventually met with then-Superintendent Vince Bertram to pitch her idea. While the process took more than two years to evaluate, refine and present, Ocker eventually got permission to move forward.

The EVSC furnished a trailer classroom. The owners of the park provided ample land and a play area. Christian Fellowship Church and other local churches "adopted" the program, offering supplies, volunteer hours to tend to such activities as landscaping and helping hands for community events such as barbecues and ice cream socials. …

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