After-School Amigos

“OK, everyone! Let’s grab our journals and pencils,” said Love Elementary School teacher Pat Cunningham. “Today, we are going to write a story in your journal about what you did on your vacation that you would like to share with everyone. It could be a gift you received, a friend or relative that you saw, or food that you ate. I need you to write at least three sentences. Who is the author of this story?”

The students all point to themselves.

“That’s right you are all the authors of your story and are the ones that will need to read it aloud when we are done.”

Cunningham worked with Love Elementary School students in a unique JPS/Jamestown Community Learning Council program called “After School Amigos,” one of many initiatives funded by the Extended School Day Grant. The literacy program, staffed by veteran teacher, Pat Cunningham, Parent Coordinator Debbie Yahn, Bilingual Translator Ruth Strand and Afterschool Activity Aide Michelle Prince, gives students the opportunity to learn more about the English language and helps develop positive relationships between home and school. The initiative is an intergenerational family enrichment program for kindergarten through fourth-grade students whose parents are of limited to non-English speaking, reading and writing abilities.

Afterschool Amigos meets twice a week after school. Students participate in a variety of literacy activities designed to align and support their classroom curriculum, address individual educational needs and to celebrate learning milestones. An expected element of After School Amigos is parent participation. Family Nights have recently included a presentation about healthy eating by Cornell Cooperative Extension. The program also partners with the James Prendergast Library to host literacy-based story times and tours for families. Home visits, which provide literacy activity packets and opportunities to discuss successes and concerns, are conducted throughout the year. The JHS JV Girls Basketball team also mentors the After School Amigos students.

Afterschool Amigos is just one program funded by the New York State Education Department’s five-year Extended School Day Grant. The grant, which originally ran from 2010 to June 2014, was recently extended to June 2015. The district receives $342,078 annually to help provide a number of high-priority out-of-school time services, including elementary after school programs at Bush, Fletcher, Love and Ring schools, Accelerated Learning Program for fifth and sixth graders, after school STEM instruction for middle school students, Chautauqua Striders elementary tutoring, middle school reading program, and Hispanic Outreach.

“The district suffered a terrific loss last June when the 21st Century Grant was not renewed. Our local community foundations came to the rescue with temporary support for several vital interventions and services for middle and high school students,” said JPS Director of After School Programs Julie Poppleton. “We are now in the process of re-grouping, re-evaluating and re-examining funding strategies, so we are thrilled to have the breather that the Extended School Day Grant extension affords us. We are working hard to secure funding that supplements modest parent fees so that we can sustain service to our community. We know that after school programs not only keep kids safe, they can also inspire learning, help improve students’ academic performance, school attendance, behavior and health, and support working families. But we also know that after school programs around the country are facing cuts, due to a lagging economy, federal sequesters and competition for a shrinking pot of much needed funding.”

The Extended School Day Grant also provides for a district Hispanic Outreach Coordinator through Chautauqua Striders. Karisse Rotger-Gonzalez provides outreach to students who may have trouble assimilating in the school environment due to a language barrier. Ms. Rotger-Gonzalez helps students with their academic program, provides translation and interpretation services at school registration and meetings. She also makes home visits to assess family needs and assist with community connections.

“The Hispanic population is growing and is anticipated to grow further,” said Amanda Gesing, director of Advocacy for Chautauqua Striders. “The Hispanic outreach coordinator links Hispanic families with the Jamestown School District. The coordinator acts as a liaison to bridge communication between home and school, and ensures families have access to additional community resources in order to increase their child’s academic success. The more connected families are to their local school and surrounding community, the more likely their children will excel in academics and graduate.”

Jamestown Public Schools serves more than 400 students each day in its after school programming. Jamestown Public Schools, in partnership with Chautauqua Striders, YWCA of Jamestown, The Y and other community organizations, provides academic support, a wide array of youth development activities that complement the regular school day, and family involvement opportunities at four district elementary, and two middle schools.