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Decatur Public Schools increases literacy and school attendance with extended day program

Students work on an art project at the extended day program at Montessori Academy for Peace in Decatur in October 2022.

CHAMPAIGN — The numbers are out on a COVID-era program meant to help learning at Decatur Public Schools.

The pre-Kindergarten through eighth graders in the DPS 61 Extended Day program had higher attendance, higher reading scores and fewer disciplinary issues than their peers, according to the district.

“Without the program I would not be able to continue working full time as a single parent. Each day they are provided with a light meal, assistance with homework and access to the library to enhance their reading skills,” said parent Ykina Perry.

A graphic shows:
Students who attended extended day had a 91% attendance rate. 
Students who didn't had a 87% attendance rate. 
Students who attended ED: 71.3% discipline referrals. 
Students who did not: 80.4%.
Fastbridge testing at or above 50th percentile in early reading
Students who attended ED: 26.3%
Students who do not attend ED: 20.7%.
Decatur Public Schools

Decatur’s Extended Day occurs before and after school at 13 elementary and middle schools. It includes tutoring and is free to parents.

But the program is being paid for by federal COVID-19 relief and could go away next year. The deadline to commit the money to contracts is September 2024, and the district believes they can continue to spend it through the rest of the fall.

“I hate to see a program that is proving positive get unfunded,” said Board of Education member Jason Dion.

Superintendent Rochelle Clark said she tentatively expects to continue the program through other grants.

Literacy has been a hot topic in Decatur after a Wall Street Journal editorial last year lambasted District 61’s low reading scores — without context, state and local officials say. 

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter@amihatt.

Picture of Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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