Students ASPIRE to structured fun
After a day of classroom instruction, doors are staying open long after the school day ends. After-school programs are popping up at all levels in the Ramona Unified School District to provide further instruction, enrichment and fun.
Perhaps one of the strongest models is the After School Program for Individual Recreation and Enrichment (ASPIRE) program at Ramona Elementary (RE) School. Run by Linda Piper and Andrea Biggers, the program is in its fourth year and is popular among parents, students, and staff.
Paid for with state After School Education and Safety Program grant money, ASPIRE is host to more than 100 RE students everyday after school from 2:15 to 6 p.m. And, there is a long waiting list.
“The waiting list is an indicator of the quality of the services and staff,” said Principal Phyllis Munoz. “Parents come in all the time because they hear it’s such a great program.”
And, who wouldn’t want to go. Piper, who oversees the budget and paperwork, and Biggers, who runs the day-to-day operations, are always looking for something new to engage and teach their eager and energetic participants. They conduct surveys to find out what students, and their parents, are interested in and then work to make it happen. In the past, they have offered karate, dance, baking, arts and crafts, chess, mad science, scrap booking, computer labs and more.
“It’s structured fun,” Munoz said.
Generally, the program starts with an hour of homework time under the teacher in charge. This opportunity helps many students stay on top of their studies because they have a resource there to help them when they get stuck. The rest of the time is spent in the class or two of their choosing.
In the CSI Science class, they learned about forensic science and solved mini crime labs. Or, they spent time with School House Chess, a traveling company that came to RE to teach chess on a life-sized chess board. And, all this is cost-free to parents.
“I know many kids would go home to a house with no supervision,” said Munoz. “We provide parents that peace of mind that their children are kept busy, they are learning, they get help with homework and they are having fun. These days parents work long hours or there is a language barrier, so kids can’t get assistance at home, so we really feel like we provide a valuable service,” said Munoz.
“They are with their friends,” added Biggers. “They feel safe and it’s fun. They really like it.”
The other great thing about the ASPIRE program, say those who run it, is that what goes on after school carries over into the classroom the next day. Kids feel more comfortable, they get to know more teachers, and teachers are able to support each other through the program by assisting with homework and more.
“It’s very personal,” said Munoz. “If my kids were younger, I would much prefer this. Everyone knows the kids names and there’s a place where parents can know their kids are safe.”
State grant money for the program is awarded in three one-year allocations and is dependent on attendance and quarterly expenditure reporting to the California Department of Education. The current budget is $11,687.
The program is always looking for new classes, and anyone wanting to help may contact Ramona Elementary at 787-4400. For those who hope to enroll for the 2009-10 school year, registration packets are sent out in the summertime and it’s a first-come, first-served basis, with priority given to working parents.
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