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West Louisville students get tutoring, art and STEM activities at JCPS Elev8 center

An adult in an orange lab coat and chemistry goggles helps a student tape up a bundle of Kroger bags and balloons.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
Kentucky Science Center staffer Megan Sleeper helps a student with their egg drop experiment.

Jefferson County Public Schools is still using federal COVID relief funds to provide free afterschool support to students who need it most.

At the Elev8 student learning center, a middle school student named Telani climbed to the top of a stepladder, with chemistry goggles strapped to her face. She held her invention in the air — a bundle of Kroger bags, cardboard and tissue paper secured to two green balloons — all meant to keep the egg inside from breaking during this science experiment.

After a countdown, Telani released the contraption, and it fell to the tarp without making the telltale — but satisfying — “thwap” of a breaking egg.

“Ooh! It didn’t pop! So that’s always a good sign,” said Megan Sleeper, with the Kentucky Science Center.

Students who come to Elev8 get to participate daily in these kinds of hands-on STEM — or science, technology, engineering and math — activities facilitated by the Kentucky Science Center, along with arts activities facilitated by the Fund for the Arts. This lesson was meant to teach students about friction, air resistance and engineering.

JCPS opened Elev8 in April 2022 as part of a plan to help students most impacted by pandemic-related interruptions to schooling.

Elev8 is open each weekday from 2:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Transportation is provided from school and back home. Students get dinner, snacks, arts and science activities, small-group instruction in reading and math, and help with homework.

Data shows students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities and students learning English were the most likely to struggle academically during COVID disruptions. That’s in part because these groups often didn’t have access to the tutoring services, learning pods and other support wealthy and connected families could find and pay for when schools were closed.

Students are eligible to attend Elev8 based on standardized test scores, low attendance or if they are failing two or more classes. They also have to live in a west Louisville zip code. Due to racist housing practices like redlining and “urban renewal,”the majority of west Louisville residents are Black and low-income. It’s also a part of the city where many immigrant families live.

“The reason for opening the center in west Louisville was to provide students opportunities where there might not be a lot of after school opportunities for them,” JCPS Assistant Superintendent of Academic Support Programs Alicia Averette said.

The district identifies eligible students, reaches out to their families and encourages them to enroll.

When JCPS first contacted high school junior Atem Atem’s mom, he wasn’t too wasn’t excited.

“When my mom signed me up, I was upset because at first I did not want to come at all,” he said.

But once he started showing up, he found he enjoyed the hands-on activities, especially the arts, music and social justice-related offerings the center has.

“The more I came here the more I liked it, and the more I wanted to come here,” he said.

His grades are improving, he said, and he feels more prepared for class. He’s also developing new interests and considering new career paths.

“I feel like I got a little more ideas of what I want to be,” he said.

Elev8 teacher Michael Zachary Jr. said he’s seen similar changes for other students who attend.

“It might be small, and it might be incremental, but what I’m trying to do by helping them out is making a difference,” he said.

Averette said the center serves an average of 60 students a day. The district initially planned to serve up to 250 students daily.

The center still has openings for more students.

Originally, the Jefferson County Board of Education promised to open three Elev8 centers: in west Louisville, Newburg and Smoketown.

The west Louisville Elev8 center is the only one to open so far, and it did so six months behind schedule.

Averette said JCPS staff have yet to select a location for the Newburg center, and could not give an opening date.

“We are in the process of looking at a couple of different properties,” she said.

The $10 million in federal COVID funds, or ESSER funds, JCPS is planning to use to pay for the projects expire in September 2024.

“The plan is still to have 2 more centers with the Newburg center the first to be in operation,” JCPS spokesperson Mark Hebert told LPM by email.

He said the district planned to have the Newburg Elev8 site open before September 2024.

“There is a commitment to continue with the Elev8 centers after the ESSER funding is gone,” Hebert said.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.