NCREL: North Central Regional Education Laboratory
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In 1990, the Big Rapids Public Schools received a small grant to help high-risk students improve academically and to give them incentives to be in school. They started an after-school program in one elementary school that achieved strong results almost immediately -- better attendance and improved test scores and grades. After nearly 10 years, the school district hoped to build a middle school after-school program modeled on their earlier efforts. They received a 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant to begin the middle school program in 1999.

Trial and Error
In the fall of 1999, the Big Rapids Community Learning Center (CLC) began at the middle school. Approximately 30 percent of the school staff signed on, and several new staff members were hired to help. One of the biggest challenges was keeping the lines of communication open for regular and after-school teachers, because the new after-school program took place during a time previously used for a meeting between these groups. E-mail became the primary means of communication between regular teachers and after-school staff. It also became an efficient way of tracking students' progress.

As the CLC begins its second year, more of the school staff are invested and involved. Enrollment is up, and new goals are on the agenda: better curriculum connections, regular meeting times for staff, more recruitment of high-risk students, increased parent involvement, and training for staff. There is strong collaboration among the CLC, the middle school, the district administration, and the community.