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Channing, library brainstorm to replace lost classroom time
By Kerry Lester | Daily Herald Staff

Channing Elementary School students Abbey Weldon, left, and Cecilia Hernandez work on a math exercise Friday at the Gail Borden Library. Since Channing's year-round calendar was scrapped, parents organized summer "classes" at the library.


Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

Channing student Claire Noland, 8, tries her best to create a volcano from flour and water during a science project Friday at the Gail Borden Library. Claire is from Elgin.


Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

Channing students Manny Alonso, 9, left and Fidel Hernandez, 8, both of Elgin, work on a mathematics exercise Friday at Gail Borden Library.


Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/11/2010 12:32 AM

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Channing Elementary parents weren't pleased this winter upon learning that the Elgin school would no longer feature a year-round calendar come fall, but quickly set about making lemonade out of lemons.

"A group of moms, we started thinking what we could really feasibly do to help the students maintain some of the growth they'd made over the school year," said Kari White, mother of a Channing third-grader and an incoming kindergartner.

But with the school building closed all summer, the cost of renting a meeting room space proving too expensive, and parents' respective homes too small to handle more than a class at a time, White said the group was initially stumped about how to get their idea off the ground.

Enter Elgin's Gail Borden Library.

After working with youth director Faith Brautigam, a plan was hatched.

Shortly after school let out, kindergarten- through sixth- grade students would meet each Friday morning at the library's downtown Elgin branch, and rotate through different subject stations - math, science, literacy and technology.

Students would be divided roughly by age group, and taught by three Channing teachers and one Elgin Community College volunteer.

And approximately eight to 10 moms would be on hand each week to help the students move from station to station, and to distribute snacks.

"It required some logistical planning," Brautigam said. "We talked about how best to handle a sizable group of children in our space. How to contain the noise, and avoid losing a lot of time commuting (from station to station.)"

On any given morning, students shuttle between the library's computer training room, its outside patio and its youth center.

"I have to say they have not been as noisy as I would have guessed," Brautigam laughed.

Quite a feat, considering between 55 and 95 children have attended each session, White said.

"We don't turn anyone away. A lot of people were just really concerned about how their kids would handle being off all summer."

Elgin Area School District U-46 in December announced its decision to end Channing, Garfield and Sheridan elementaries' year-round calendar. No meetings or information sessions were held for parents or staff members before the announcement.

"We were just blindsided," Cynthia Wendt, a sixth-grade teacher at Sheridan said then. "... The way this action was taken, they gave us absolutely no professional courtesy."

Since 1999, the three east side Elgin schools operated on an alternative calendar featuring more frequent, shorter breaks and an academic year starting in late July and ending in June.

The move is expected to save the cash-strapped district around $200,000, roughly 0.5 percent of the its annual budget.

Channing, Garfield and Sheridan all feature high percentages of low-income and minority students.

"Teaching these populations is especially challenging," Wendt said. "With the continuous calendar, we have much more energy. I feel we're much more productive."

A Daily Herald analysis of the three schools' standardized test scores over the past eight years found that Garfield Elementary saw the most dramatic improvement on scores, with a 26-point gain in the percentage of students meeting and exceeding standards on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. Channing saw a 19-point gain, and Sheridan saw a 15-point gain. The district's 40 elementary schools as a whole saw scores improve by 20 points during that time period.

For giving their time to the summer program, teachers are receiving a small stipend through a school grant, White said. Brautigam noted that the summer sessions cost the library very little. "It's largely just staff time," she said.

One recent session saw one group doing a science experiment with household ingredients - milk and food dye. Other students were inside using scales, weighing and estimating measurements.

The program's working so well, Brautigam said, that Gail Borden has "tossed around the idea of trying to get grant funding to look at this as a pilot program. To have it open to all students in general, not just Channing students. It would be a really nice community thing to do."

• Daily Herald correspondent Michael Hansen contributed to this story.