More options after school for Merced area high school students

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comOctober 8, 2013 

— Area high school students will be able to expand their horizons, catch up on missed credits, join clubs and get help with their homework after school through a five-year program just getting underway.

Students from Atwater, Buhach Colony, Merced, Golden Valley and Yosemite high schools can take part in the cooperative ASSET program, which will receive about 1.5 million in federal funds each year for the next five years, said Kelly Bentz, program director.

She expects at least 150 freshmen through seniors to be involved initially; students at Livingston and El Capitan high schools also can participate in ASSET programs. ASSET stands for After School Safety and Education for Teens.

One of ASSET’s partners is the Fresno-based California Teaching Fellows Foundation, which involves undergraduate students from UC Merced; California State University, Stanislaus; California State University, Fresno; and Merced College.

Typically third- or fourth-year students interested in a teaching career, Teaching Fellows students will be paid about $11 an hour and can accumulate 1,500 to 2,000 hours of experience, like a formal internship.

Mike Snell of Fresno, executive director of the foundation said the Teaching Fellows ideally will be mentors and role models who have grown up in the same neighborhoods as the students they are working with and can offer valuable advice and counseling.

One major element of the after-school program is the Environmental Science Academy, which began a decade ago and is expanding to after-school hours.

Adviser Seth Medefind said the academy gives students a chance to learn about the outdoors and be involved in hands-on activities.

“The neat thing about (ASSET) is the sky’s the limit on what each component will involve,” Bentz said. “It will be up and running and pretty full by early January when the second semester starts. There will be faculty meetings at every campus this week.”

Snell said the program is on target to serve 160 students a day. Schools will be open each day until 6 p.m.

A healthful snack, physical activities, homework assistance and enrichment classes are planned for the program. Transportation home from school is also offered.

Jennifer Trindade, ASSET coordinator, said the grant will help students not familiar with certain careers.

“It’s a great program,” Trindade said. “It will be helpful for everybody and will increase students’ self-esteem.”

Medefind said field trips to national parks are planned. He lauded the National Park Service for its cooperation with Environmental Science Academy activities.

“We will have more kids than we will be able to handle, which will be awesome,” Medefind said. “A lot of kids have never been to the mountains before. It opens possibilities in their mind, to having careers in Yosemite such as rangers, naturalists, guides and interpreters.”

He expects students will be able to explore fire ecology, relating to recent forest fires, and look at forest management practices.

Initially, Torrin Johnson, Yosemite High School’s principal, was unhappy his school wasn’t included in the program. Johnson said he was concerned at-risk students would be left out. However, he learned recently that funding is available for the alternative school. He is hoping to push some of his students into exploring career and technical education paths.

There are 360 students at Yosemite. Johnson hopes at least 150 get involved with ASSET programs.

Academic support will include recovering lost academic credits, homework assistance, math and language arts tutorials, family literacy, and college and career exploration.

On the enrichment side, beat and rhyme labs, art and fashion design, photography and video editing labs, leadership and service learning, intramural sports, dance and music instruction programs are envisioned. ASSET programs are free for participating students.

Bentz said there will be security at all campus sites. Snell said the program will keep students engaged and safe during the afternoon, when the possibility of being a crime victim or a perpetrator are greater for youths.

Sixty-two students at Atwater High are in the Environmental Science Academy. For Luis Medina, there’s a practical reason. He wants to learn about different plants so that when he’s on his own he can tell which plants are poisonous and which are not.

Ashley Perez said she joined because she wanted to discover more about nature. Daniel DeSousa is looking forward to experiencing the outdoors. Liam Gutierrrez is excited about field trips because he wants to climb and hike, and Valeria Anguiano said she loves new adventures and nature.

Bentz stressed that ASSET is a community program, not just something at the high school. She is looking forward to working with other agencies and said each campus will have seven or eight activities going on.

“It will offer great opportunities to provide amazing enrichment activities after school,” Snell said. “We want to keep them interested and engaged.”

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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