New program extends learning day at Riverton Elementary School in Portland

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PORTLAND — Hundreds of students streamed out of Riverton Elementary School at 3 p.m. on Friday and into their parents’ waiting cars and minivans.

But about 150 students stayed behind. Intentionally.

The students are participating in a new after-school academic enrichment program being funded by a portion of a three-year, $3.4 million federal school improvement grant.

Last spring, Riverton was identified by the state as a failing school because of its poor performance on standardized tests. The after-school program, which runs for two hours four days a week and three hours on Wednesdays, is part of an effort to improve the school’s performance.

It’s designed to provided extended learning opportunities to students who are struggling in the classroom.

After having a snack, the children are allowed to play outside before they spend at least 30 minutes getting assistance on their homework.

After that, they can choose from a list of enrichment activities, including playing the guitar, writing, movie-making, cooking and exploring nature.

Grant coordinator Katherine Theriault said the program is based on research that suggests engaging children in fun, after-school activities can translate into better performance in the classroom, especially among immigrant students.

“What you’re learning outside the classroom has implications in the classroom,” Theriault said. “It’s helping them bridge the gap that might exist between their own experience and the curriculum.”

About 43 percent of the 150 students are immigrants, Theriault said.

The program, which started on Sept. 7,  is staffed by eight teachers and five ed techs, all of whom are certified teachers.

While overseen by a school district employee, Theriault said the staffing is provided by LearningWorks (formerly Portland West), which has a one-year, $317,400 contract with the district.

Ethan Strimling, LearningWorks executive director, said the Riverton program is modeled after similar initiatives last year at Reiche Elementary School and East End Community School.

Working with third- through fifth-graders who were struggling academically, Strimling said the program successfully prevented the students from falling further behind in their studies, while half of the students improved their academics.

Strimling said he believes the success of the program lies in the low student-to-teacher ratio and the focus on cultural enrichment.

“Really, it’s the individual work we can do,” he said. “We try to keep our ratios down to 10-to-1. That allows you to give the kids the type of attention they need.

“The cultural enrichment work is essential to make sure kids are broadening their horizons, working with each other and learning new experiences,” he added. “When you’re working with kids who have fallen behind academically or are low-income, that cultural enrichment can really begin the process of helping them to advance academically.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]