When Larry Gerber took on the role of Rural Director of the Cody School District and Director of After-School and Summer Programs, he aimed to lay the foundation for success at multiple levels for as many students as possible.
This foundation is now being strengthened in the near future after the district received a $ 1.5 million grant through the Wyoming Department of Education, which has already sparked joy and creativity in departments across all. the district.
“Last year the board and administration made a very smart decision and put some money aside to give these kids opportunities after school,” said Gerber. “It’s an opportunity to be creative and to work with teachers, to discover what they love, be it cello, stained glass, baking, computer programming, and let them do it and teach skills academic through this. “
Gerber saw the need years ago after helping start some extracurricular activities as a teacher at Livingston Elementary. So many students signed up, however, there weren’t enough opportunities to meet all of their needs.
When this new position was recently announced for the post of director of after-school and summer programs, it set in motion a new directive that should keep teachers and students engaged in a multitude of fields.
“We left the job description a bit open,” said district human resources manager Chynna Singer. “It was an opportunity to build something, to be creative, and to bring back this fun piece to help the kids and the teachers.”
So far, the response from teachers and students across the district has been off the charts.
A previous state COVID grant has already helped a number of successful after-school programs get started, and with the new grant, the entire program will be sustained and grow exponentially with the funding.
Gerber worked with other educators on a grant application this summer to explain how the district will measure success, what types of programs will be created to ensure students are surrounded by positive adults, how they will work with the community. community and much more.
“I’ve spoken with a number of community organizations to get things done like taxidermy, blacksmithing, leatherworking, internships for high school kids, coding for drones,” Gerber said. “We’re really going to try to support the arts, especially with our little guys at the elementary level. I have spoken with the Art League and they are interested in setting up programs.
Other after-school programs are already circulating in the district, offering real-world and academic applications that students can apply throughout their academic careers and beyond.
Livingston’s second-grade teacher Tess Donham has started an after-school reading program where students bring their reading skills to the animal shelter and read to animals to help them hone their skills.
At CMS, Sean Conway has oriented his science, technology, engineering and math students to a space for children to 3D print, robotics, programming and woodworking.
A “Rock of Ages” musical is in the works. CMS teacher Stacey Skoric started a program where children see people doing amazing things in the community or for school and make cards to thank them.
If there is someone in the community who needs help, there is a team that can help them too.
“One of the coolest things we see is that so many teachers and paraprofessionals reach out and rediscover their passions,” Singer said. “COVID has burned a lot of teachers and students, and they’re excited again. “
The new grant is expected to provide a funding window of approximately three summers to determine how to fund it in the future.
“When the grant money is gone and parents and students want these programs, that’s when we have to figure out how to keep it going,” Gerber said. “COVID has been very difficult for teachers and students. Children need this connection with people. With these programs, they are back with other children, positive adults and they are learning without even knowing it.
One program has already proven to be so successful and in demand that it has already had to expand.
“Chris Galagan in Sunset, Rachel Cowger in Eastside, Jenny Warner in Livingston and Audra Wood in Eastside have started a textile art club,” Gerber said. “They wanted to cap it at 20, well, they asked 43 kids to apply. Chris said kids are hungry for these opportunities, it’s just a matter of finding a way to provide them.
The transportation department is committed to bringing the children together and getting them to where they need to be. Programs run after school until approximately 4:45 p.m. and there is no charge for students.
“A lot of the expense is not just finding a way to pay staff or community members for their time, but also supplies and equipment that we haven’t been able to do in the past because we were on a tight budget, ”Singer said. . “Now if anyone has an idea where the supplies are going to be a little more expensive, we have the option of providing them to the staff and the children. “
This summer, plans are underway for two- or three-week sessions in which teachers can choose to lead different programs at different times.
“Some of the things that we have in the works are very good ideas,” Gerber said. “We’re working on getting hunter safety courses, babysitting certifications, really working things that kids can sign up for.”
The grant and the programs all help fill in the gaps in the areas that have been lost to COVID, bring students back to a pre-COVID level, and do so in creative and inspiring ways.
“I’ve been in this district for 20 years and have been teaching for 30,” Gerber said. “This district is blessed with good teachers. They are really good, deeply caring, committed people who just work the tail. I think if there are some things we can do to find that joy again with everything that is going on and have opportunities to have fun with the kids and share their passions, it’s not clear how much these kids can learn. And we know it works.