When the school bell rings at the end of the day at Washington Technology Magnet School located in Saint Paul’s North End, more than half of the students stay at the school for an additional two hours to participate in the WINGS program. WINGS is a take-off on the Eagle, the Washington mascot. This year the school has been able to expand the WINGS program to four days a week with the help of a three-year 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
While WINGS offers a “second shift” to the students at Washington, it existed before Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman took office and implemented the Second Shift Initiative. Principal Mike McCollor says, “Philosophically, we’re the same thing (as the city’s Second Shift). We think this is the right model to have.”
Students choose from 20 different after school classes, including step dancing, chess club, cooking classes, math club, pre-engineering and sports. The classes provide real life experiences to the students and are an expansion of Washington’s commitment to academics, athletics, and enrichment while continuing to include technology in all subject areas. At the same time they are building community among themselves and developing school loyalty. Many of the classes leave the building one or more times a week to take advantage of resources in the surrounding neighborhood.
Washington Technology Magnet School is located in the heart of the North End neighborhood of Saint Paul, three blocks west of Rice Street. The school first opened in 1924 as a junior high school, and was Washington High School from 1927 until 1979 when it again became a junior high. It is named for George Washington, first president of the United States. Since Washington is a citywide magnet school its students come from all parts of the city. Attendance for the 2007-2008 school year is 600.
Over the years Washington became known for its dedicated staff that really cares about the kids. Two of my children attended Washington a few years ago, and parents and community members agreed that Washington was one of the best kept secrets in town Today it is no longer a secret and families are choosing to send their children to Washington to take advantage of the many opportunities that are offered.
As I visited the various locations of the after school classes, the kids were fully engaged in whatever they were doing. In most of the classes, students were so involved they did not even look up when visitors entered the room.
Classes offered provide a variety of options for the students ranging from credit recovery where they can make up missing credits, to enrichment to playing on sports teams. Sports offered this fall include boys’ and girls’ soccer, girls’ volleyball, and flag football.
We went to the playing fields to watch as the Washington boys’ soccer team, wearing purple and gold uniforms played Cleveland Junior High. Other students wearing bright green t-shirts with the Minnesota Thunder Plus logo stood on the sidelines wildly cheering on their team. The Minnesota Thunder is involved with Washington as part of its community outreach program. As I watched the players on the field and the cheers from their classmates, I could not help but think that although the kids do not all speak the same language they are all on the same team.
Math club is actually a math recovery class allowing students to make up a credit if they have fallen behind. In one math class, students who are new to the country were working on math sheets solving problems at their own pace. Some of these students may need a little more time to complete their work at their level. Students are given 250 objectives and they must pass one before they move on to the next. They run their work sheet through the Scantron machine, which gives them their score and tells them the correct answer to problems they have missed. Each objective that is not completed correctly is repeated until the student successfully masters it.
Pre-algebra and algebra classes allow a student to work on their homework and receive extra tutoring help from their math teacher. One day a week the students walk to the Rice Street Library to use the computer labs there. Since no new content is taught, students who do not attend WINGS do not miss out on learning new material.
The step dancing class is an enrichment class that practices on the stage in the school auditorium, and once a week the students go to the Klub Haus on Rice Street for a class with the Saint Paul Ballet. In a partnership with the Skyway YMCA, students have class at school three days, then go to the Y one time each week.
As we entered the cooking classroom, it smelled like breakfast as the kids prepared French toast. Taking advantage of the many different cultures the students bring to the classroom, they plan to prepare a variety of ethnic foods including Hmong egg rolls and Thai hot and sour noodles.
In book club, students can make up missing credits in English. If a student is short in credits, and attends the make-up classes four days every week, they have the potential to make up four credits per school year.
In another English class, students were busily using laptop computers in an English enrichment writing class. Students have already published their first issue of the school newsletter, the Eagle Examiner, which they describe as “ For Kids, By Kids. ” As part of their community outreach, the students will interview residents of the neighborhood, as well as members of the 50 + Club, Washington alumnae who graduated 50 or more years ago from the former high school.
New community partnerships are in the planning stages with Como Park Zoo and Conservatory and the Science Museum of Minnesota. In addition, Marnie Wells from the Mayor’s Saint Paul Second Shift Initiative will be meeting with the school to seek additional partnerships.
One of the challenges in running an after school program like WINGS is staffing. Principal McCollor opened it up to staff and found that many were willing, and in fact eager, to come to work a little later, and stay until the end of the program day. Renee Jensen is in her fifth year as assistant principal at Washington and is in charge of the WINGS program. She comes in at 10 a.m., and for half of the day does her regular administrative duties, devoting the other half to WINGS. Jensen says,“This is the perfect program. We are connecting the kids with the community in a lot of different ways.”
Sarah Scripps, a VISTA volunteer for the city of Saint Paul is the WINGS coordinator.
Since the majority of the students are bused to the school, transportation home after school hours is always an obstacle. For now, buses run the school routes twice – first at 2:40 at the end of the regular school day, and again at 4:45 at the conclusion of WINGS.
Parent involvement is a big piece of the picture. Three parent events are scheduled in the coming months. These will take place in partnership with Jackson Elementary School. Jackson 5th and 6th grade students and their parents will be invited to take part in Hmong Parent Night featuring a Hmong dance group, and “What to Expect in Junior High.” The spring parent program will have a presentation, “All About Gangs.” McCollor also hopes to begin a group for new African arrivals.
McCollor declares the after school program “Dynamite,” while going on to say, “It is so critical at their age… kids have nothing to do after school. We want to catch them before they have jobs, before they have boyfriends, before they have serious life issue.” He says of Wings, “It is a win, win, win situation.”