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Denair students benefitting from extra learning time

Some Denair students attend school as many as nine hours a day this year thanks to what is known as the Expanded Learning Opportunities Program (ELOP), a new initiative from the state that provides additional instruction, tutoring and academic enrichment.

The program is voluntary, but comes on the heels of two pandemic-affected school years with distance learning and other disruptions to class that caused some students to fall behind. ELOP is one part of a many-faceted solution to help catch students up.

At Thursday’s monthly meeting of the Denair Unified School District board, Superintendent Terry Metzger and principals at three campuses described how the program is working so far.

ELOP begins at 7:30 a.m. – an hour before regular classes begin – and then resumes after school until 4:30 p.m. Some students participate in both sessions, while others are enrolled only in the morning or afternoon. Teachers who volunteer for the extra assignments are paid a stipend for their time.

The program is not a substitute for child care, which the district also offers until 6 p.m., Metzger emphasized. ELOP has a strong academic component, allowing students in various grades to complete homework or work on assignments while getting more personalized attention.

Though the state mandated ELOP only from kindergarten through sixth grade, Denair expanded it to its middle school and high school campuses as well.

“We see this program as another way to reach out to our students and families,” Metzger said.

At Denair Elementary Charter Academy, there are nearly 100 students participating in ELOP, with another 15 on the waiting list. Principal Marilu Cano expects to accommodate more students as soon as she can add additional teachers.

ELOP is different from the rest of the school day only in the sense that it tries “to incorporate having fun with learning,” said Cano.

“We want students to want to stay here,” she said.

Across the street at Denair Middle School, there have been 15 to 20 students participating in ELOP – a number that Principal Gabriela Sarmiento expects to increase now that grades have come out and some parents recognize their children need extra academic attention.

“The biggest thing we do is help with homework and mentoring,” she said.

Middle school students have access to an open gym in the morning in addition to instructional support in the afternoon. Sarmiento and her staff have discussed adding ELOP elements at lunchtime for students who can’t participate in the afternoon because they are involved in other extra-curricular activities already.

At the high school, Interim Principal Breanne Aguiar said 44 students are benefitting from ELOP. Like Sarmiento, she also expects that number to increase now that first-quarter grades have been posted.

“Parents who weren’t aware of the program have asked, ‘Where do I sign up,’ and I say, ‘I’ll do it for you,’” said Aguiar.

The high school program includes a partnership called College Corps in which CSU Stanislaus students come to Denair to tutor students in specific subjects in the afternoon.

The state provided about $800,000 to fund the program this year, Metzger said. That is based only on the number of children from TK to sixth grade who participate. The state does not require ELOP at the older grade levels, but Denair decided it was important to offer it anyway.

“We’re focusing on academic support and building relationships, and even our older kids need that,” Metzger explained.

In other action Thursday night, trustees:

·         Heard a report on the district’s special education program, which includes 143 students at all grade levels. That number could go up as Denair continues to “take back” students who have been receiving services through the Stanislaus County Office of Education, said Special Education Director Amanda Silva.

·         Listened to an update on students for whom English is not their first language from Anajanzy Montoya, English Language Development Coordinator. Of the district’s 1,309 students, 249 are in various stages of learning English, Montoya said. Denair’s services include special programs for those students as well as their parents. Students are tested twice a year on their ability to read, write, speak and listen in English, Montoya said, and can move out of the program once they are deemed to be fluent.

·         Approved the formation of an eSports and Gaming Club at Denair High School. Speakers said there are about 15 students interested in participating in the online game club.