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After-School Programs Growing in US

February 22, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ The buses at Public School 27 have long gone, but fifth-grader Shanna Holmes is still in a classroom, busily creating an elaborate pop-up greeting card.

The 10-year-old is one of 235 children in the Crossroads After-School Program at the Brooklyn school. When she and her classmates master cutting milk cartons into cards, they will teach the technique to residents at a nearby home for mentally handicapped adults.

``It’s fun,″ Shanna said of the program. ``I like staying in school after school. It’s a lot better than being at home. At home all I do is watch TV and be alone.″

After-school programs like that at Public School 27 are a growing trend nationwide, spurred on by charity foundations which, in turn, get help from community groups and government.

Free after-school programs are popular with parents, especially as the number of working mothers increase.

Socorro Perez, a mother of second- and seventh-grade boys, said she had problems helping them with their homework _ her first language is Spanish _ before enrolling them in the program.

``It’s helped them a lot,″ she said. ``Before they stayed at home. Sometimes I had to contact a friend to help with the English homework.″

The government has become an enthusiastic supporter of after-school programs. This year it allocated $454 million to help support centers in 1,600 rural and inner-city schools in 49 states.

``There’s been exponential growth in after-school programs,″ says Adrienna de Kanter, a special adviser to the U.S. Department of Education. ``It’s been a silent revolution.″

At P.S. 27 in New York, principal Marilyn Fuenes says the after-hours program has given her school _ and its students _ a new spirit.

``Two years ago, nothing was happening. The kids couldn’t play. They would go to school and then go home,″ she said. ``Now the school has come to life.″

Shanna’s low-income, dockside neighborhood has one of the city’s largest public-housing projects, and 97 percent of P.S. 27 students receive free school lunches.

The Crossroads program at P.S. 27 is a partnership between Good Shepherd Services, a neighborhood community group, and The After-School Corporation, which provided the funding.

Philanthropist George Soros started the corporation in April 1998, pledging up to $125 million over five years to create after-school programs in New York City public schools, the nation’s largest district.

The corporation has created nearly 100 after school programs for 26,000 children. This school year, its budget is $36 million, with more than $25 million coming from private and public coffers. Operating for three hours from Monday through Friday, the programs cost about $1,000 each year per child.

The Crossroads programs are designed to enrich learning and 45 minutes are devoted to homework, but they have a wide range of recreational activities, too.

``Sometimes you have to take the reins off a little,″ says John Powell, 24, a volunteer in the P.S. 27 program.

In one classroom on a winter’s afternoon, first- and second-graders thump drums, knock wooden sticks together and bang tambourines on their hips, keeping time with a music teacher.

Down the hall, second graders in theater class shriek with excitement as they transform themselves into Pikachus, a character from the popular Pokemon cartoon.

The smallest often get help from bigger kids _ part of the volunteer Counselor-in-Training program, which pairs sixth- and seventh-graders with first- or second-graders.

Mentor Emanuel Turner said he often feels like a teacher and guidance counselor as he helps a second-grade ``buddy″ read. He is learning patience, too, since his charge would rather run around than do homework.

Like Soros’ corporation, the Education Department does not create the programs single-handedly. Almost all after-school programs are a collaboration between the government, private groups and community organizations.

Political leaders have noticed the trend. During his State of the Union address in January, President Clinton said he wanted to more than double funding for after-school and summer-school programs to $1 billion.

Vice President Al Gore also has spoken favorably about the after-school idea, and Republican hopeful George W. Bush has said he wants to reverse federal rules that prevent churches and synagogues from being part of the after-hours programs.

Richard Negron, who runs an after-school program in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood, said he’s not surprised to see politicians speaking out on after-school opportunities.

``It’s no coincidence that it’s an election year,″ he said. ``For parents it’s a hot issue.″

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