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District builds sense of belonging with after-school programs

Gains already seen in attendance, behavior, well-being

Northview — The final school bell of the day doesn’t see the same mass exodus from district buildings as in past years.

The reason: after-school learning aimed at honing skills and cementing a sense of belonging as students emerge from pandemic isolation.

BASE, which stands for Belonging and After School Engagement, encompasses an evolving list of free programs for all district students. Program Director JoAnne VanSlooten said it started last spring for those in grades 7-12 to promote student and staff engagement with one another in a fun, relaxed environment. BASE expanded last fall to include grades K-6. 

In a recent cooking and baking session, Crossroads Middle School eighth-grader Aryana Thoryk worked with others to make chocolate chip muffins as she explained how she preferred being social after school over going home to an older brother, “who’s, well, an older brother.”

“This is fun,” Aryana said. “For example, I didn’t know how to make chicken alfredo before this, and suddenly I do. And it was even tasty.”

STEMventure leader Jen Judson works on code wristbands with North Oakview students in the BASE program

After School is Cool

BASE programs are funded through September 2024 via Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds — federal dollars aimed at addressing the impacts of the pandemic — after a survey of parents and students showed a decreased sense of community and a large interest in a more diverse array of out-of-school options.

Offerings are renewed four times throughout the school year, and range from one-time workshops to programs that meet once a week. They have included a carpentry club, mountain biking and flag, rifle and saber-twirling at the high school; a sewing club, rock band and cooking/baking club at Crossroads Middle; and STEM indoor/outdoor adventures, robotics and coding classes and gardening activities at the elementary level.

Each of the district’s six buildings has a coordinator who works to organize programs and oversee registration, communication, advertising, attendance and logistics. 

More than 850 students have registered for BASE programs since April 2022, and middle and high school programs have more than doubled in attendance. Students can sign up for as many as they are able to attend; program leaders say every building has had waiting lists for some activities.  

Positive Impacts

Van Slooten, Northview’s community education coordinator, said they’ve already seen student benefits in social-emotional elements such as confidence, a sense of community and new friendships.

“Northview has amazing fine arts and sports programs, but there are so many more students who just go home after school and don’t feel the connection or engagement that student athletes and band/choir/theater kids feel,” she said. 

Decreased absenteeism also appears to be a benefit, which has been a priority for many districts, as well as state and federal education officials.

‘I am afraid that too many of us believe that ‘the sky is falling’ because of how COVID impacted student learning. … [Students] love to learn, so let’s give them the opportunity to explore and be curious.’

— Northview Superintendent Scott Korpak

Superintendent Scott Korpak said the district is seeking ways to continue the program once the ESSER funds are used up in fall 2024. 

“My personal goal is to have these programs offered as an option just as sports and band are,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the kids we are touching with this and the difference we are making in their lives.”

Parents Like It Too

Sarah Reames is a guidance secretary at Crossroads. She also is her building’s BASE coordinator and a parent of an East Oakview third-grader who Reames said is as enthusiastic about the program as she is.

“I was one of the parents who was awake at midnight on the registration page, hoping I could get her signed up for what she wanted,” Reames recalled. “She gets in the car afterward and is so excited to tell me all about what they did that day.

“The biggest thing I’ve seen is kids making relationships with other kids they wouldn’t otherwise. Especially coming out of COVID, now that (her daughter) is meeting other kids, it’s also finally given me the opportunity to meet other parents.”

Parent Katie James agreed. She has four children, in grades DK through seventh. Her oldest, a daughter, has been in BASE art and sewing programs since the fall.

“She has a really hard time socially at school, so I think it’s nice she can pick something she’s interested in, and that gives her an opportunity to make friends with kids with the same interests,” James said.

Northview High student Nicholas Denboer, left, looks on as classmate Amelia Reed plays her hand during a BASE board game session

More Data Being Collected

As Northview continues to see how BASE programming impacts students, Korpak said the need to measure and assess student engagement remains a priority.  Citing research that a strong correlation exists between student attendance and student engagement, Northview’s data demonstrates that if a student attends BASE programming, their attendance at school likely increases during that same time frame.

In spring 2022, 18 BASE programs collected attendance data and compared that to school attendance before and during BASE involvement. The percentage of students whose school attendance increased during BASE participation was 51.3%.

Measuring the correlation between BASE programming and academic proficiency is the next step in ensuring that the resources leveraged to increase student engagement are doing just that, Korpak said.  

“I am afraid that too many of us believe that ‘the sky is falling’ because of how COVID impacted student learning,” he said. “We are not talking about widgets; these are our children. They love to learn, so let’s give them the opportunity to explore and be curious. That’s the type of learning that leads to increased test scores.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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