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Learning never stops

Red Level School’s colors might be gold and black, but on Wednesday, students got in touch with their green side.

Members of the Covington County Master Gardeners visited the school after the final bell to teach students about gardening. It was a special enrichment activity in conjunction with the school’s after-school program — “21st Century Fifth Quarter Encore.”

Chris Thomasson, assistant principal and program coordinator, said the school has been offering the after-school program since October and it has already been a tremendous success. Students who participate in the program remain at school after the final bell, where they receive a snack, get time to work on homework and also get the chance to participate in a variety of enrichment activities until the program ends at 5:30 p.m.

“The kids are divided into two age-appropriate groups and then they have their activities,” Thomasson said. “So far, we’ve had archery, bowling, science, art, guitar and music lessons, just a whole variety of things for the students to do.”

Wednesday, students in the program learned about plant root systems from Master Gardeners Claudette Colvin and Susan Blair. They planted bean sprouts in soil and sweet potatoes in water, and will compare the two at a later date to determine the similarities and differences in their root systems.

Wednesday’s class was the fourth week the Master Gardeners had visited the school for the program.

“Our first week, we planted some trees outside for Arbor Day and Earth Week,” Colvin said. “The next week, we built a terrarium and talked about ecosystems, and last week the students made some hanging baskets from gourds.

“The students have been really interested in the program and we love to teach the children about gardening.”

RLS second grader Alexis Perdue said she enjoys staying after school to participate in the program.

“I like the planting and when we go outside to water our flowers and plant a tree,” she said. “We get to solve riddles sometimes, and that’s fun too.”

Thomasson said students who participate in the after-school program have seen noticeable improvement in their class work.

“We’ve had some kids who have signed up, just to participate in one particular activity that they really enjoy,” he said. “Other kids have been with the program the entire year. We had a few kids who were struggling in school, but are now making As and Bs after being in the program.”

The after-school program is funded by a U.S. Dept. of Education 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, Thomasson said. The school was awarded the competitive grant in August, and it will fund the program for six years — $125,000 for the first three years $85,000 for the fourth year and $50,000 for the final two.

The program has a tuition fee of $15 a week for students who are not on the free-reduced lunch program, and $8 for students who are on the free-reduced lunch program. Thomasson explained that the fees will help continue to fund the program even after the grant money is exhausted.

“We want to keep this program for a long time; it’s been great for our school,” he said. “Dawn Baker is the program director and she has done a great job of getting some great activities and fun things for our kids to do.”