The Sun Prairie Community School Initiative is a partnership and collaboration between individuals and organizations to help students achieve and stay connected with the community. It provides a wide variety of services to students and their families, including after-school sports and other activities in a safe environment with adult supervision.
“Because of these activities, we’re seeing that the kids are more ready for school,” says Mary Ellen Havel-Lang, one of the group’s founding members. “They want to be at school. The attendance numbers have increased. Their progress has increased. We’re getting more parental involvement in the schools.”
One of the Initiative’s programs, Kids Achieve Together, pairs upper middle school and high school kids with elementary school students. Twice a week the older students provide tutoring and physical activities for the younger children.
“These were underachieving students. They met their peers achievement level, with that one-on-one tutoring, in math and they exceeded their peers in reading, because they had a relationship, in a safe environment, that helped them understand and learn those lessons.”
Programs also include mental health services and counseling for alcohol and drug abuse, plus programs aimed not at students, but at their families:
“Financial literacy, computer safety … our non-English speaking parents with help learning enough English to deal with the schools.”
Havel-Lang says the initiative is modeled on similar programs in other communities, and the grassroots organization currently receives no public funding. It was launched in 2010 over concern about the lack of activities for youth in the community, particularly in low-income areas. As a result, meals and nutrition play an important part in the group’s programs.
“We’re in a very actively growing community, and we have seen the increase in poverty in our community,” Havel-Lang says. “Having good nutrition and having food is a critical part of learning. Being hungry is not the situation you want to be in if you want to learn.”