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Pence students continue learning after school

Pence Elementary School student Braezyn Stutzman shows off the paper basket weaving she did in the after-school program. (Photo courtesy of Katie Boatright)
Pence Elementary School student Braezyn Stutzman shows off the paper basket weaving she did in the after-school program. (Photo courtesy of Katie Boatright)
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FAIRFIELD — Students at Pence Elementary School in Fairfield have been having a blast with daily after-school activities that are both educational and fun.

Now in its third year, Pence runs a federally funded program after school until 5 p.m. every school day. The 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant gives $60,000 for the program every year for the first three years, then $45,000 for two years after that until going away completely.

After-school program director Katie Boatright said the idea behind the grant being phased out over time is that it gives the school an opportunity to supplant the grant money with local donations and partnerships.

Pence ran an unfunded, volunteer-run after-school program for a few years under the direction of Justin Messer. Boatright said the old program consisted of random activities, but with the advent of federal funding, the school is able to offer programming that involves STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and experiences they wouldn’t have at home.

For the first couple years of the program, students went on field trips. During the first year, they just went on field trips in Fairfield, but the second year they went out of town, to the Ottumwa YMCA for a day. The club planned to go to the Iowa Children’s Museum in Coralville last April, but that trip was canceled because of COVID-19.

This current school year threw a wrinkle into the program because of the unusual schedule to begin the year, where only half the students were in the building at a time. Pence went to a fully in-person schedule from early October through mid-November, but then had four weeks in a row of completely virtual classes.

Boatright said the after-school program met twice a week during the early part of the year to ensure that every student had at least one chance to participate. The program continued even when classes went online. Boatright said she and her staff created a classroom on the school’s online portal, and staff members dropped off activity kits to the students’ homes each week.