When the 60 girls at Kennedy Elementary School bounced into their Girl Scout troop meetings after school each week, they just thought they were having fun. Little did they know they were also learning. A lot.
They tested the rules of physics while shooting off balloon helicopters in the cafeteria, explored biology during a hike through Camp Tongawood, honed math skills while practicing how to spend and save money and fell in love with English while discussing the stories they read for book club.
After-school learning activities like the Girls Scouts are helping Kennedy students, 75 percent of whom are considered economically disadvantaged, make great gains academically. The school’s math and reading scores are skyrocketing, thanks to the diligent work of the students, faculty and staff and a host of community partners spearheaded by the United Way of Douglas County that are providing students with the support they need to succeed in and out of the classroom.
Check out these test scores: In 2011, only 53.8 percent of Kennedy students were proficient in math. By 2013, that number had skyrocketed to 91.3 percent, well above the districtwide score of 87.9 percent and the state’s score of 80.4 percent. In 2013, 82.6 percent of Kennedy students were proficient in reading, up from 73.5 percent the previous year.
Kennedy Principal Cris Anderson credits these “amazing numbers” to the teamwork between Kennedy’s staff and families and the ongoing investment by a committed group of community partners like the United Way, Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, Communities in Schools and Girl Scouts.
“When we all work together, we have a greater power to impact student success. It’s a community effort, and the gains will pay off to us in our community,” Anderson said. “It is not a one-person or one-agency job. It is all our jobs to provide all these different opportunities for all our kids.”
Through its Education Community Goal, United Way is working to ensure students are proficient in reading and math by fourth and fifth grades, because research shows that when students are working at or above grade level, they are more likely to graduate from high school. To meet that goal, the United Way collaborated with its community partners to develop a pilot program at Kennedy Elementary that extends learning beyond the school day into the after-school hours.
As part of the initiative, the United Way provided funding and support for the Girls Scouts of northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri to established staff-led troops at Kennedy and at Woodlawn Elementary. In three years, the troops, held during the Boys and Girls Club after-school programs, boasted enrollment of 113 girls in kindergarten through fifth grade.
“The Girl Scouts’ program is designed to help girls build knowledge, self-esteem and leadership skills. They want girls to be educated, healthy and financially self-sufficient. That’s a great message for children across our entire community, but it’s even more important to deliver in neighborhoods where a high number of students face economic challenges,” said Erika Dvorske, president and CEO of the United Way of Douglas County.
Anderson is thrilled with the investment these community partners are making in Kennedy’s academic success.
“The gains these kids are making now will impact them forever,” she said. “It will impact the direction of their lives.”