Monday, September 24, 2007

Site #2...up and running!

It's happening...we're expanding!!

As of yesterday, Sept. 24, we officially opened our second After-School Academy! After a lot of brain stress over the last few months of wondering how we would pull it off, what people we needed to talk to, how to not duplicate what is already happening in Roseland, not being sure about how to recruit kids, etc., we finally just stepped in the waters and are waiting for them to part.

It's been almost 13 years since I started doing after-school programs. Back then, there were no expectations. Kids weren't part of my job (I ran the food pantry); I simply invited kids into my home. Larry, my boss, helped me acquire two Compaq computers from a friend of his who worked for the company. I purchased educational software, anonymous "friends" gave book and supply donations, and a friend from Discovery Toys donated educational toys. The kids played, created, wrote poetry, and cleaned up before they went home each evening.

We decided to make it a Central Dallas effort after that and built on our partnership with O.M. Roberts elementary to have the after-school program in their computer lab, then, eventually moved it to the Central Dallas building on Haskell. The after-school program remained small and somewhat hap-hazard. We had no big funders to be accountable to. Kids were just little people we believed in and, therefore, we took action to do what we could. Looking back, despite the fact that we had no annual reading assessments, no monthly outcomes reports, and not even a real "program," it provided kids with an alternative. It was community. And we had fun. Every blue moon, I still get calls or visits from some of the kids who used to come to my apartment.

Ten years ago, Central Dallas began working in Turner Courts and my "job" became focused on South Dallas. I started with what we had...two or three kids each evening who may or may not stop by, who didn't care for my attempt at structure, and some of whom, quite frankly, were bullies to the other kids. But each year we set the expectations a little higher until we now have a program in Turner Courts with 30 kids (you should see it! It's packed this year!) and 5 on the waiting list...some of whom are accepting our abbreviated option of participating in just the extracurriculars until they can get moved up on the waiting list so that they can also receive homework help and participate in the educational centers and such.

Yesterday, Keilani (our Children's Educational Coordinator at Roseland) opened our second site. We had 3 kids. Very sweet. Very polite. They have now been enlisted as the leaders who will help us teach any new kids that arrive the structure--greet new faces, eat snack, do homework, participate in centers, attend class. Today we are supposed to have two more new faces in the program. We are collaborating with Turner Courts so that both groups will have a variety of opportunities--chess, science, art, Kids Comedy College, music, technology, etc.

I must admit, at first three kids in a program where we were hoping for 15 to start and 30 to max it out, was a little disappointing. However, looking back on the history of our After-School Academy, I realize that we simply began. We didn't wait for the Big Bang to take place where everything--supplies, kids, equipment, and kids--showed up at our doorstep. We simply began with what we had...and we have grown!

At the Roseland After-School Academy (located in the Central Dallas Church), our walls are pretty bare, our supply closets are still empty, our numbers are small. But what I like about our After-School Academy is that it's not the numbers that matter, it's the people. I like to call it the "ripple effect." People make a difference with people who make a difference with other people who make a difference with other people, and so on.

How do we make that difference? We work with the families and offer something that is valuable to them...we listen to what they are telling us about what they want for their children...we expect excellence because we know the kids are excellent...we believe in the parents as important to their children and our community...we partner with the families...and we offer our best because we know our kids (and their families) are worth it.
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