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'Carnegie Can' after-school program offers variety of subjects to grab students' attention

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Elaine Surma, a senior supervisory special agent for the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, speaks about the dangers of drugs to a group of students involved in Carlynton’s after-school learning program last week at Carnegie Elementary School. Doug Gulasy | The Signal Item
Kristin Laureys, left, and Holly Bomba, center, representatives of LabRatz Science Club, help students with an experiment on surface tension last week at Carnegie Elementary as eighth-grade teacher Chris Colonna looks on. Doug Gulasy | The Signal Item
Students in Carlynton’s after-school learning program blow soap bubbles in water as part of an experiment on surface tension last week at Carnegie Elementary School. Doug Gulasy | The Signal Item

Elaine Surma stood at the front of the Carnegie Elementary library last week and posed a simple question.

“What drugs can you name?” she asked a group of about 15 students.

A few raised their hands, with one girl responding, “Coke.” When Surma asked the girl if she knew anything about cocaine, she got a “no” in response.

“I'm glad to hear that,” said Surma, a senior supervisory special agent for the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General. “That's very encouraging for me.”

Surma spoke to a group of fifth-through eighth-graders last week about the dangers of drugs as part of Carlynton School District's “Carnegie Can” after-school program.

“These kids are in the forefront every day,” said Surma, who speaks at schools throughout the state. “They need to know what they're up against.”

“Carnegie Can” is in its first year at Carlynton after the district secured a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant over the summer. The state grant will provide the district with $108,000 per year for three years to fund the after-school program.

The program, which was designed to reach students in need of academic or other out-of-school assistance, averages about 30 students per day, said Lee Myford, director of pupil services.

The district's grant application called for 90 students, and the district needs to reach 80 percent of that number by the end of the year.

While the program started out on an invitation basis, Myford is expanding it to allow for other interested students.

“As I explained to the staff, we're flying the airplane as we're building it,” she said.

“We're making adjustments as we're going along because we want to make it the best program we can for students.”

For example, Myford said, instead of doing an extra hour of instruction in reading and math, as the application originally called for, the program was adjusted to allow for tutoring and homework completion.

Each day also includes a physical education and reading component, as well. Exploratory opportunities include a newspaper club, visits from people such as Surma and representatives of Junior Achievement and more.

The program also partnered with LabRatz Science Club for a once-a-week session where students learn science lessons through experiments.

At the first session last week, students learned about surface tension through two experiments: Making paper clips float in cups of water, and blowing soap bubbles in the water.

District officials are targeting crucial assessment subjects such as math, reading and science, but they're doing it through egg drops and bridge building, as well as book clubs and the partnership with LabRatz.

“When we wrote the grant, we were choosing to focus on the curriculum that we thought would be most useful for the future,” Myford said. “Really, the idea was high school dropout prevention. The big picture is preventing high school dropouts, so that's what we need.”

Myford said the students are already showing improvement in attendance, and she's interested in seeing how their testing has been affected as well.

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-8527 or

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