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Linton Middle School after-school program boosts STEAM learning, enrichment

| Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, 8:57 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
The Penn Hills School District has partnered with Communities in Schools of Pittsburgh-Allegheny County to bring 'More Magic in the Middle' to Linton Middle School. The after-school program is designed to provide students the opportunity to learn in a nontraditional environment to help them reach their full potential. Becky Schran helps Elijah Onuorah, 10, create his hot air balloon basket.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
The Penn Hills School District has partnered with Communities in Schools of Pittsburgh-Allegheny County to bring 'More Magic in the Middle' to Linton Middle School. The after-school program is designed to provide students the opportunity to learn in a nontraditional environment to help them reach their full potential. Kaylynn Hogan, 11, Alayah Mallory, 10, and Drea Holloway, 10, add the finishing touches to their hot air balloon baskets.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
The Penn Hills School District has partnered with Communities in Schools of Pittsburgh-Allegheny County to bring 'More Magic in the Middle' to Linton Middle School. The after-school program is designed to provide students the opportunity to learn in a nontraditional environment to help them reach their full potential. Summer Moran, 10, finishes a light cutout for the “Lights on After School” program.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
The Penn Hills School District has partnered with Communities in Schools of Pittsburgh-Allegheny County to bring 'More Magic in the Middle' to Linton Middle School. The after-school program is designed to provide students the opportunity to learn in a nontraditional environment to help them reach their full potential. Kamell Beasley, Destin Dozier and DaJuan Faulk, all 11, practice turning 'Lights on After School' in a classroom simulation.

Penn Hills High School sophomore David Hutson knows how important it is for young students to get help with academics when needed — so much so that he volunteers at Linton Middle School in its “More Magic in the Middle” after-school program.

“It's a good sense of fulfillment,” said David, 15. “I was in this program, and I also promised that I would come back and help. It helped me feel closer to my friends when a lot of my friends were in the program. It helped in every way possible. I help students do their homework and help with (physical education). I mostly help children with math because that's my specialty.”

The program is in its third year and is funded annually through a $300,000 21st Century Community Learning Center grant obtained through the state Department of Education.

“More Magic in the Middle” is open to fifth- through eighth-graders and runs from 3 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, continuing through May 31.

Students are provided with a meal to start each session, along with a snack and transportation home afterward.

More than 100 students are enrolled in the program. Parents can still register their children, but there is a waiting list.

Staffing is provided through a partnership between the district and Communities In Schools of Pittsburgh-Allegheny County.

Jean Olivis, Communities In Schools program coordinator, said she reached out to Penn Hills to be a partner district six years ago and it has worked out very well.

“Communities in Schools runs what they call a comprehensive connections model with school districts,” Olivis said. “That's where they link services to schools to help students stay in school, learn and prepare for life.”

The previous three-year after-school program at Linton was called “Magic in the Middle” and funded through an annual $360,000 grant.

Funds were adjusted due to state cuts and district needs.

The most students that the Linton after-school program has had at one time was 200 in the 2014-15 school year.

“That's when we realized that we weren't funded to serve that many students,” Olivis said. “We went to the state and revised to serve the 100 kids that we're actually funded for ... the kids we have here right now. That particular year was a real trying year.”

Students rotate every 30 minutes to different classes with a focus on STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math. There are homework tutors and reading and math specialists on hand.

Stefanie Raspotnik, Penn Hills School District professional development and funding coordinator, said the students have fun while learning.

“We're not a babysitting service,” she said. “We're here for enrichment and support.”

It's that and more for the kids.

“It's fun,” said fifth-grader Destiny Dozier, 10. “We get to come to art every day and go to computer class.”

“People are very nice here,” said sixth-grader Kamell Beasley, 11. “I like gym. It's awesome. This is my second year. My mom told me to come here.”

Fifth-grader Dajuan Faulk, 11, is in his first year at the program.

“I wanted to be here because my aunt and uncle's here,” Dajuan said. “I like doing the homework here. The teachers teach me new stuff.”

A teacher from Washington, D.C., participates via Skype as part of an activity called In Class Solutions that involves students learning various skills to improve their futures.

“It helps them with their grades,” said volunteer senior Taelor Law, 17. “It helped me out with my grades and I have been more active (in school) since I did the program.”

Tiffany Smith, a STEAM teacher from Pittsburgh Public Schools, said her “More Magic in the Middle” class involves crime scene investigation, aerospace topics and more science-related activities.

“They're able to learn new things. They're able to reinforce things they learned during the school day,” Smith said. “Our key focuses were math and reading, but they're able to get other enrichment activities. One time we had African dance and drumming. They do art and get three hours of enrichment. All the adults here are helping them (with) three more hours of learning and growth.”

Raspotnik lauded Olivis and Communities In Schools for the partnership, and the state Department of Education for funding the program.

Communities In Schools is a national network of professionals working in public schools to help students achieve, graduate and go on to bright futures. It serves 1.5 million students at 2,300 sites.

More information about the program is available by calling Olivis at 412-793-7000 ext. 6119, or Raspotnik at 412-793-7000 ext. 1264, or by emailing jolivi@phsd.k12.pa.us or sraspo@phsd.k12.pa.us.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367 or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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