Building addition planned at McGovern Middle School for expanded after-school options
Sioux Falls School District is partnering with the Promising Futures Fund and the Boys & Girls Club for the first step in new program at middle school level.
SIOUX FALLS — The Sioux Falls School District is partnering with two local nonprofits to create a new after-school program at McGovern Middle School that would include a privately funded building addition.
The effort is still in the planning and fundraising stages but it represents a significant expansion of after-school options at the middle schools. It comes as the district is launching a revamp of similar programming for families at 22 elementary schools next fall.
While the details between the two levels of education are different, the concept is the same. That is to find ways to give families more and better options when school lets out for the day and in the summer.
That includes a variety of programming from recreation to tutoring to social skills. It depends on the needs of families at each school, said Rebecca Wimmer, coordinator of community partnerships and after-school programs for the school district.
“It’s a different vision for how we can support middle school students and help them prepare for the future,” Wimmer said in an interview with Sioux Falls Live on Wednesday, April 12.
The McGovern addition is the first step of bringing the Community Learning Centers model — announced for the elementaries last year — to the middle school level. Plans call for a three-quarters gymnasium, an innovation lab for science and technology education, a social and recreation area and a culinary classroom, Wimmer said.
That doesn’t mean all six middle schools in the district need a building addition..
The district will work with families and staff to understand the demographics and evaluate each school, Wimmer said. That will inform the direction of the program for each building.
“It’s definitely not a cookie cutter approach where you can say we are going to do this at every middle school and this is what it’s going to look like,” she said.
The idea for the McGovern program grew from a conversation between that school’s principal and Steve Hildebrand, founder of the Promising Futures Fund, about a similar effort in the Omaha public schools.
That led to a field trip of sorts to Omaha where Hildebrand, Wimmer and school board member Cynthia Mickelson learned more about the Community Learning Centers model. At the time, Wimmer was leading the Boys & Girls Club of the Sioux Empire but she eventually moved into the district position as part of the effort to transform after-school and summer programming in the schools.
The first phase was elementary programming which begins in the fall.
Hildebrand’s organization focuses on helping kids at Sioux Falls schools with high rates of poverty, including McGovern. For example, Promising Futures organizes field trips for eighth graders to area colleges and universities where they get to explore academics and sports programs.
The group also provides books to students and supports teachers at several Title 1 elementary schools.
Getting involved with brick and mortar funding and support is a new venture.
“A major pillar of the Promising Futures Fund is to find ways to improve after-school care and increase access to kids in need,” Hildebrand said. “Every credible study says that after-school care can improve a student's attendance and test scores. Every principal that we work with at the elementary and middle school level was asking for help in making the after-school programs better and accessible to kids in need.”
Mickelson, who will leave the board when her term expires this year, said one of the lessons of the Omaha trip was that the district and the after-school program can share space, making both more efficient.
Expanding in Sioux Falls will help students with academics and social skills, but there are also benefits for workforce development and the potential to reduce juvenile crime, she said.
“After-school programming provides a broader benefit for the students to either hone their academics further or to explore extra-curricular activities that can’t be completed during the school day,” she said. “Students who have these additional supports are more likely to have better attendance, better grades and continue on to graduation.”
The YMCA currently supervises programs at the middle schools. The goal of Community Learning Centers is eliminate some of the transportation cost and keep the programs closer to the families.
That’s true at the elementary and middle school levels.
“We know transportation is an issue,” Wimmer said. “Finding ways to keep kids at their middle school, bring those services to them, is really what we’re focused on. For some of those it's additional programming, for some of them it’s going to be additional space.”
Currently, there are 30 to 40 middle school students using after-school programs. Wimmer said that number should be, and will be, higher with better and expanded programming.
Omaha was seeing the same trends. By bringing in nonprofit organizations and giving families more options, each of the learning centers are serving 300 to 400 students each day in schools about the same size as those in Sioux Falls, Wimmer said.
The McGovern program will be operated by the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire, which is also participating in the elementary school effort.
The plan is to pay for the building as well as staff and other needs, with private money.
Hildebrand, the well-connected former political strategist and successful businessperson, is leading the fundraising effort.
The goal is $8 million, he said.
“Rebecca is the expert at after-school care and I do a pretty good job at fundraising,” he said. “We teamed up to do this together with her focus on implementing the programs and my focus on raising several millions from private donors to help scholarship more low-income children into after-school and summer care, and to build Boys & Girls Clubs on to some of our middle schools.”
The timeline and the scope of the project depend on the fundraising, Wimmer said.
“Obviously, when you’re talking about the development of youth and what this community needs, sooner rather than later is important,” she said. “If we are able to raise the funds, I would love to break ground this summer and be ready to go by fall of 2024, but that's a pretty audacious goal and we’d need significant funding to make that happen.”