TOGETHER! Partners with North Thurston Schools to Foster Student Success

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Meadows’ youngest students learn about dinosaurs and the Earth millions of years ago.


Club House students visit the State Capitol after a unit on student leadership.

Just in time for Halloween, 9-year-old Ashlin Veltri’s short story “The Sharp, Sharp Secret” will be published on Amazing Kids! Magazine’s website. Ashlin, a fourth grader at Lydia Hawk Elementary, was inspired to work on the tale of a reluctant vampire and her family while participating in the reconfigured Club House program, a collaboration between the non-profit organization TOGETHER! and North Thurston Public Schools (NTPS).

As a bonus, a Gates-MacGinitie comprehension test revealed that the fourth grader’s end-of-year reading level was above that of a seventh grader – a remarkable achievement, according to her father, considering the fact she tested below grade level at the beginning of the year. “It was really important to her,” he says. “When she tested a little lower than was expected in the beginning, she was really upset by it. It meant a lot to her that she improved.”

Ashlin is just one of 190 students at Lydia Hawk, Meadows and Pleasant Glade Elementary Schools who benefitted during the first year of TOGETHER!’s Club House program. She was one of eight students who took advantage of the pilot Read Right tutoring program, which was offered only at Lydia Hawk’s Club House program last year. TOGETHER!’s Club House program is funded by a large 21st CLC grant from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, as well as smaller grants and gifts from the Literacy Alliance, Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, Puget Sound Energy Foundation, Lacey Rotary Club and individual donors Jon Emerson and Getha Tidrick.

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Math Bingo is fun and helps Lydia Hawk students sharpen math skills.

Ashlin’s experience was not an anomaly. “The average improvement for the other students in the online reading intervention program was about one full grade level,” says TOGETHER!’s Director of 21st Century Learning Centers/Clubhouse, Rhonda Stone. “That was with an average of about 14 hours of tutoring.”

Teachers were quick to notice the improvement. “I had one [teacher] come to me after the first month and say, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but please keep doing it. This student is already reading 20 words a minute faster than before,’” explains Stone. The Read Right method uses oral reading as a gauge of reading ability and requires students to achieve excellence with each and every oral read. The method uses multiple strategies to help students succeed.

Washington’s 21st CLCs – or “Club House,” as NTPS students know it – is designed to increase after-school and summer academic enrichment options for students and boost parent engagement. “We have three schools we’re serving based on test scores, need and family income,” says Meagan Darrow, TOGETHER!’s deputy director. “Each program serves 60 to 70 kids for a minimum of 12 hours per week during the school year. They get academic and enrichment programming.”

Stone says the program differs from other after-school offerings in several key ways. “Our goal is to offer project-based learning in a way that students learn and have fun at the same time,” she says. “The kids are actively driving their own learning and enjoying it along the way. We’re presently exploring ways to add individualized learning support so that students can receive help for academic deficiencies while they are at Club House.”

north thurston public schools together
Meadows’ youngest students learn about dinosaurs and the Earth millions of years ago.

For two hours and fifteen minutes after school every Monday through Thursday, students experience project-based learning with materials and equipment such as books, writing journals, art supplies, Legos, math games, science kits, microscopes and computers. This summer the staff added robotics kits and other fun activities. During “choice” time, students engage in activities like sports, dance, art and music. “We try to have a lot of student choice and student input into the different activities that we do,” says Eva Donjacour, site coordinator for Lydia Hawk’s Club House. “Even though it is an academic program, we really take into account the whole learning of the kids – their emotional learning and leadership development. A lot of other skills go into all the activities and programs that we put together.”

The choice activities change throughout the year, giving students an opportunity to explore diverse interests. “We’re trying to introduce the kids to a variety of activities and help them find something that they can latch onto as a life-long interest,” says Stone. “Ashlin’s writing project is a great example.” Ashlin used Club House time to work on and polish her story, despite having to re-write it multiple times due to a computer crash and problems with ink. Club House staff saw the potential in the story, encouraged her and even helped her submit it for publication.

Stone has seen other impacts as well. “We have a student who needed one-on-one adult supervision constantly when the program started. As a team, we met, talked and decided to give the student the opportunity to see if they could perform on their own. We set boundaries, made the consequences very clear, and consistently held the student accountable. That student began functioning completely independently.” Donjacour adds, “This student’s parent told me this was the first time their child was able to participate in an after-school extracurricular program. We’re really proud of what that student was able to accomplish.”

together north thurston public schools
A wildlife unit ends with a visit to the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge.

Stone says that Club House solves the problem of latchkey kids who don’t have anyone at home after school. “It’s a relatively inexpensive tool to support and help kids become healthy, productive members of our community.” Ashlin’s father also sees the program’s value. “Even when she’s sick and can’t go to school, Ashlin still wants to go to Club House,” he says. “She’s always bringing home some information that she learned and wanting to share it with us. She took a lot away from the program.”

As for Ashlin, she’s looking forward to the start of a new year and already planning the sequel to “The Sharp, Sharp Secret.”

To raise funds for this and other community programs, TOGETHER! will be hosting its first annual gala at the Governor’s Mansion on Friday, September 25th from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Tickets cost $75.00 and can be purchased online.

For more information about TOGETHER! visit or call 360-493-2230.

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