LA's BEST, a citywide after-school program, was started at Esperanza Elementary School in 1996. The initial goals were to give inner-city students after-school care and to improve communication between the school and families. The communication link improved immediately, and students had a fun, safe place to be; but the link to the curriculum and academic enrichment was weak, and enrollment was low.
Trial and Error
In 1999, under new leadership, a more rigorous afternoon was planned. Homework help was the first thing students participated in, followed by enrichment activities that included field trips and literacy development. The staff soon discovered that parents came to pick up their children as soon as homework was done, and students weren't getting the enrichment activities they needed to improve literacy skills. The schedule was adjusted: Enrichment activities came first, followed by homework. More students stayed. As the program grew stronger, enrollment went up.
LA's BEST is a successful program connecting the school day with the after-school program, the community, and families. Communication between the regular school staff and the after-school staff is strong. Classroom teachers notice more completed homework, improved literacy, and better grades and test scores. Parents are more engaged with the school and know more about what students are doing and studying. Goals for the next year include recruiting more students, establishing more community partnerships, and implementing a program for students to learn musical instruments.