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Students improve in grant program
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A look at the 21st Century Grant, that funds after-school programs in Newton County, has shown that participation in the programs benefits the county's at-risk students, improves test scores and increases the chance for graduation and educational confidence.

Deena Sams, the coordinator for parent involvement and after-school programs for the Newton County School System gave a presentation to the board on the grants, along with statistics - both locally and nationally - that show regular participation in high-quality after school programs was linked to significant grains in standardized test scores and work habits as well as reductions in behavior problems among disadvantaged students.

Annual reports from teachers across the country showed that students who attend the 21st Century programs typically raise their math grades by 37 percent and English by 38 percent. It also showed increases in homework completion, class participation and behavior in class.

Students served by the grants include those who did not meet standards on the Curriculum Based Competency Tests, End-Of-Course Tests and Georgia High School Graduation Tests, students in need of remediation and credit recovery, students retained for academic reasons, students exhibiting "at-risk behavior" (such as truancy and disruptive behavior) and families in need of education.

Six Newton County schools are served by the grants, as well as Washington Street Community Center.

The first grant serves Middle Ridge and Porterdale elementary schools, Liberty Middle School and the Washington Street Community Center.

Of the 346 served, 295 students who regularly attend the programs. The majority are black females, 10.2 percent are considered special needs and 91.2 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

The second grant serves West Newton Elementary, Indian Creek Middle and Newton High schools.

There are 239 students served, 192 of which regularly attend. The majority served are black males, 6.8 percent are special needs and 91.7 percent are eligible for free and reduced lunches.

The after-school programs provide additional instruction and tutoring in core academic areas, assist with homework, teach leadership skills, provide character/prevention education, offer a variety of enrichment classes and field trips, offer parent education classes and increase parental involvement. Students participating in the after-school programs are required to show progress by a certain percentage or the NCSS could lose the grants.

With the second grant, 86 percent of the students met or exceeded their goal in reading, and 75.7 percent improved or maintained satisfactory grades in reading/language arts/English. And 80 percent improved their grades or maintained them in math.