Learning Tree: an after-school program that’s so much more

March 4, 2011

 Visit any Northside Learning Tree site and you'll see students that are active, engaged, learning and above all, having fun. (Watch video)

The Learning Tree after-school program is offered at select Northside middle schools and elementary schools. It is managed and run by Northside employees as part of the district's Adult and Community Education Department.

"I expected it to be more of a daycare and I ended up finding out it was nothing like daycare," said Megan Campbell, a seventh grader at Zachry Middle School. "It was so much fun."

Learning Tree is an extension of the school day, providing a safe, structured environment that promotes academic and social success. All students are provided a nutritious snack, recreation time in the gym or on the playground, monitored homework time and age-appropriate enrichment activities.

Some Learning Tree programs are grant-based, funded at no or low cost to families, and other sites are tuition-based, with families responsible for the entire cost of monthly tuition.

Learning Tree is open each school day. The elementary programs begin at 2:45 p.m. and the middle school programs begin at 3:45 p.m. Closing times vary by site, and some offer bus transportation home. Attendance is taken each day and parents must sign out their children at pickup time.

The award-winning program began in the late 1990s and has grown ever since. More than 35 Northside campuses offer Learning Tree after-school programs this school year, including Beard Elementary School, which recently switched to a tuition-based Learning Tree program.

"First and foremost, the community wanted it. We listened to our community," Beard Principal Mark Rustan said. "Beyond that, the expectation of the format, what it was going to look like from an educational standpoint, and the fact that they're NISD employees - I think when you put all of those things together, it's proven to be very successful. All stakeholders are happy, the parents are very happy, the students are very happy, and we as staff are very happy, so it's a win-win format."

All Learning Tree staff members are Northside employees and are trained by the District using an approved curriculum. Although Learning Tree can accommodate up to 160 students at certain sites, there is an average teacher to student ratio of 1 to 18. The staff includes coordinators, site leaders, and youth leaders, many of whom are college students studying to become teachers.

Learning Tree offers enrichment activities that reinforce academic subjects taught during the school day. Science activities are popular with students, as are lessons that incorporate technology. 

Community speakers are often invited to share lessons on topics such as character, service and healthy lifestyles. Elementary students look forward to Fantastic Fridays where they can participate in fun activities like cooking, arts and crafts, and sports. Parent involvement is also strongly encouraged with numerous parent night and parent university activities.

Middle school programs also offer a variety of enrichment activities. Options vary by site but can include physical activities like soccer or yoga, or more hands-on activities like CSI-science and cooking.

The structure and variety offered at Learning Tree makes the program a unique experience. 

"It's not hectic, you can work on things," said Denay Griffin, a fifth grade student at Beard Elementary. "There's a balance between craziness, like outside when we play football, or balance when there's silent time, time to focus on homework."

Denay's mother, GayLynn Griffin, is thrilled with the afterschool program.

"I think they keep the kids active, keep the kids busy, they make sure homework gets done," she said. "That way I get to come home and have more fun with my kid. I'm very impressed by a lot of the changes that this program offers."

For more information about the Learning Tree, call 397-8102 or email them at Learning.Tree@nisd.net.