Amanda Jones’ day begins around 6:30 a.m. and doesn’t end for another 11 hours.
The good news for Jones, a special education teacher at Squires Elementary School, is that she hardly counts the last 120 minutes as work.
That’s the time she and a handful of instructors dedicate every day to the After-School All-Stars program, a 20-year-old extracurricular outreach effort now in place at 13 “at-risk” schools around Clark County.
Nearly half of Squires Elementary’s first- through fifth-graders attend the four-day-a-week program, in which students split time between an hour of grant-funded after-school instruction and an hour of program-funded extracurricular activities such as karate and Ballet Folklorico, a traditional Mexican dance.
Think of it as latchkey, Jones said, just on steroids.
“If there wasn’t something like this here in this area, who knows where a lot of our kids would be?” she said. “Some of them, their parents aren’t home; they might get involved in some illegal activities, cause some issues. That’s the scariest thing.
“It keeps food in their bellies, and it keeps them off the streets. So we’d like to have more students, but right now, we’re on limited funding.”
The school recently lost federal Title 1 funding for underserved Clark County schools. It now relies on roughly $100,000 in grant funding and a smattering of program dollars handed down from the All-Stars program.
Program associate director Erika Aguilar said Squires’ students face cultural and fiscal challenges of their own, ones she hopes the program can help tackle in the gymnasium after class.
“Sometimes, you have a great student, but he may not be doing well because he faces so many things at home that don’t allow him to focus on school,” she said. “It could be that there’s not enough to eat; it could be that he’s having to sleep on the sofa.
“At schools like this, where 70 percent of students are Hispanic, there’s sometimes not a parent at home who can help with a students’ homework because they don’t speak the language. That’s another challenge right there, but there are a lot of things out of our control.”
However, the program seems to hold plenty of sway over its graduates.
Aguilar pointed to a handful of Ballet Folklorico students spinning at the other end of the multipurpose room.
The ballet instructor, she said, is a program graduate, one of many instances in which a former student had returned to see younger siblings or kids from the neighborhood complete the program.
“You really do make an impact on these kids’ lives,” Aguilar said. “That’s why you come back, because you’ll run into someone years down the road who went through the program and they’ll remember you. You can’t put a price on that.”
ASAS serves an an estimated 6,000 elementary and middle schoolers in the Las Vegas Valley.
Nationwide, another 15 million K-12 students are taking care of themselves after school, including about 122,000 in Nevada.
For program executive director Ranna Daud, those hours between when a student gets home and when his parents get off work can put him at a major disadvantage, especially in Southern Nevada.
“Because of the 24-hour nature of Las Vegas, many students in Las Vegas go home to empty homes when the school bell rings each day, which can be a dangerous and unproductive time for young students,” Daud said in a release issued late last month. “Our organization is dedicated to providing safe, engaging and healthy after-school activities for kids who are otherwise alone and have nowhere to go.”
Having somewhere to go, it seems, can also help boost academic performance. According to ASAS, program enrollees outperform their peers on statewide standardized math and reading exams.
“Thanks to our partnership with the Clark County School District’s Assessment, Accountability, Research and School Improvement Department, evaluation results showed that students in the After-School All-Stars program performed 10 percent higher … in both their Math Proficiency and Reading Proficiency for Criterion References Test scores than non-participants,” Daud said. “We are proud of these results because it shows that our programs are making positive strides and improvements on the youth in our community.”
For more information on After-School All-Stars, contact the group at 702-770-7601 or visit afterschoolallstars.org.
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at 702-477-3839 or firstname.lastname@example.org.