MODESTO — At nearly two dozen Modesto schools, kids race to do homework, hang out with friends and play after the final bell all without leaving campus. They're the lucky ones, because at some schools, more than 100 students wait for openings.
In a mark of just how much school has changed in a generation, staying after school no longer means detention it means help with homework and a safe place to stay.
Modesto City Schools offers After School Education & Safety programs, each funded by roughly $120,000 in state grants, at its four junior highs and 19 elementary schools. ASES (pronounced "aces") keeps latchkey kids on track and out of trouble, with statistics showing fewer juvenile crimes committed in afternoon hours where the programs are in place. Program participants also show a marked improvement in attendance.
"It's a safe haven, at a time when most parents are working," said district overseer Jane Manley. The goal is for parents to pick them up with homework done, she said, with struggling students benefiting from a little extra help.
But before picking up their pencils, kids get a snack. First things first.
Then comes quiet time with textbooks, then the fun stuff. Grouped by grade level, kids move among crafts, sports, educational games and club choices. While the activities are geared toward entertainment, they serve a serious purpose.
Modesto's ASES programs extend the school day, tying fun extras to core lessons, Manley explained. "This isn't just a program that's plopped down on a campus," she said.
At Martone Elementary, ASES coordinator Christopher Sequeira said his program has become a part of the school. "They really embraced us. They don't consider us just the after-school program. We're a family," he said.
The ASES staff members, as well as kids, are working on a number for the school's big event, the annual talent show.
Martone Principal Carol Brooks said the program partners with classroom teachers and the Martone PTA. They work on penny fund-raisers for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and visit the retirement community where school namesake Alberta Martone lives.
"Community service activities help students develop compassion and contribute to the broader community," Brooks said.
At Tuolumne Elementary, Principal Tonja Cargill said the program "provides constructive activities and keeps students focused." Parents who don't speak English appreciate the homework help, she added.
ASES continues the discipline strategies and PeaceBuilders character building that are used throughout the school day. It also organizes student assemblies and family nights at the school, built around math, literacy and science activities.
Besides assisting individual students, the program helps increase family involvement at school, Manley said. "It really does build a bridge," she said.
Teachers turn to ASES staff to get messages to parents if they have trouble tracking them down. The school's low-income families tend to move often. "ASES provides a level of stability for families," Manley said.
Tuolumne has 137 students on its waiting list. Only a dozen or so of the program's 115 spots come open each year once returning students and siblings have secured seats, said program coordinator Kristi Logan.
Logan helped arrange a visit to a nearby retirement home, where students danced with residents, who had the kids singing tunes from the 1950s and '60s. "It was a good learning experience for them," she said.
Tuolumne second-grade teacher Linda Hilscher said she likes how kids pitch in to help at school; for example, counting 30 tiles into a plastic bag for every kindergartner. "We do great things here. It is amazing what they do. These are things that our kids don't get to do," Hilscher said.
At Mark Twain Junior High, seventh- and eighth-graders played guitar, took dance lessons and finished homework in their ASES groups.
"It provides a safe place for kids to go after school," said Mark Twain Principal Mike Berhorst. "I wish they would have had it when I went to school," he added with a chuckle.
Berhorst said he sees the program making a difference for students. "I do see a difference in the culture. Higher expectations, more support. This is something they cherish," he said.
Seventh-grader Natalie Contreras, working on a digital drawing for a flier, said she likes the structure. "You get to finish your homework in a quiet place," she said.