Since its inception in 2007, Highfields After School program, Reaching Higher, has consistently done two things: helped students, and expanded.
In the last seven years, the grant-funded program has grown from a two-location program able to serve 90 students to a program reaching across seven schools, able to serve 315 students each day.
"The difference between Reaching Higher and other programs is that we bring the 'Highfields component.' We work with students at their level on behavior and social skills, because that's how you get to their academic problems," said Brenda Weck, the project director. "If a student doesn't feel safe, they're more worried about walking home at night than getting their homework done."
Through Reaching Higher, students are able to make new friends, get help with their homework, learn new skills and take field trips. One field trip that Hunt Elementary has coming up is to Ichiban Japanese Restaurant where they will discover hibachi-style cooking.
While a field trip to a restaurant may not be a typical venture for elementary school students to make, it does offer several benefits. One of those is to learn about different cultures and food.
"It's food they've eaten before – chicken and steak – but prepared in a different way that they might not be familiar with."
Aside from the cultural and culinary aspects, the trip helps with the students' interpersonal skills by teaching them how to order food from a server.
"It's teaching them how to be good members of society and teaching them the social skills that we take for granted," she said.
Reaching Higher isn't just aimed at elementary and middle school students; there are also resources available for parents. According to Weck, increased parent involvement is a big goal of both Reaching Higher and local schools – and not an easy goal to obtain.
"We try to bridge the gap between school and parents; we try to find what parents are interested in and what their needs are," she said.
Reaching Higher offers classes, meetings and speakers that address specific needs and interests of the parents. Some classes include how to build a resume and create a household budget. Speakers have talked about topics ranging from drug abuse to being aware of signs of Attention Deficit Disorder in children. Weck says it's important to the program that, if a parent expresses a need, they address it right away.
The staff involved with the program enjoy benefits of Reaching Higher, too. At a time when educational standards are changing and teachers are given larger and larger classes, Reaching Higher gives teachers a chance to connect with students and build strong relationships with them.
"This is one of the few times you can see such fast results," Weck said. "In this program we are able to see the growth [of students] in front of our eyes."