Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/1018phoenixyouth18.html
Phoenix reinvents after-class programs
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 18, 2003 12:00
Yvonne Wingett and Michael Kiefer
Phoenix is reshaping its after-school program to help struggling schoolchildren and troubled teens, moving away from one-size-fits-all sports and recreation to reading, writing and math programs tailored to each school's needs.

Although the city has no authority over the 30 school districts that fall within its boundaries, it has an interest in education. And so the city enters partnerships with schools all over the city.

Officials predict that test scores will improve and dropout rates will decline by a strengthened program, which 30,000 to 50,000 youngsters take part in weekly at 166 public schools, recreation centers and churches.

Those enhanced programs also will produce a better-educated workforce, which eventually will build Phoenix's economy by helping it persuade some of the nation's top employers to relocate or expand here, city officials and experts say.

"We want to have the top students going to schools here, going to college here. And after college, having the high-quality, high-paying jobs that will keep them here," said Vice Mayor Greg Stanton, who is leading the plan. "If we don't, we will not be successful in building the economy and having the types of jobs we want here in our economy."

Phoenix will spend $65.7 million of city money and state and federal grants on education and youth programs this year alone, a financial commitment almost $10 million more than the city spent last year.

The programs range from drug and dropout prevention to fire-starter intervention to neighborhood cleanups.

Officials see it as a long-term investment that will pay dividends, namely in landing firms based in science and biotechnology. Those companies won't move to Phoenix, they argue, unless executives can count on quality education for their own children and an educated labor pool.

"One of the key statistics (potential employers) look at would be things like test scores or high school dropout rates," said Tim Hogan, director of Arizona State University's Center for Business Research. "Evidence is that they're interested in going someplace that has high-quality schools. If you're talking about moving a firm here or trying to hire people outside of the area to move here, that's one of the things they tend to look at."


School districts in Phoenix consistently have low test scores. Poor schools are a major deterrent to luring new residents to the city instead of the suburbs, Hogan said.

Arizona's students have dismal showing on the AIMS test, the state test that measures what students know using state standards. About 30 percent of third-graders consistently fail the reading portion of the test.

What's more, an estimated 10 percent, or 5,000 high-schoolers, could fail to graduate in 2006 because it's the first year AIMS will be a high school graduation requirement.

School administrators use Phoenix as a significant player in youth programs.

"Other cities want control, and that's what you see in Detroit. You see it in Philadelphia, you see it in Boston, you see it in many of the urban cities across the U.S.," said Murphy School District Superintendent Bob Donofrio, who sits on the city's youth and education commission.


School has waiting list


At Jack L. Kuban, a K-8 school in a largely industrial neighborhood near 35th Avenue and Buckeye Road, 150 of the school's 500 students stay after school every day for a program funded by the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department.

"It's a safe haven for the kids," said Jeannette Martinez, the teacher who runs Kuban's after-school program.

Many children come from homes where only Spanish is spoken and no one can help with their homework. So they get that help, and help with their English skills, after school. They play games, do art projects, work on computers and generally have a good time. Parents pay a nominal weekly fee of $10 per child, and the program is so popular that there is a waiting list to get in.

When asked what she would be doing if she weren't there, sixth-grader Ashley Narvaez, 11, said, "Sitting home bored."

The after-school program helps her parents, too, she said. "They don't have to find someone to watch me, and they think it's good because they have to work." School starts at 6 a.m.; the after-school program ends at 5 p.m. It's a long day.

"But it's a fun day," sixth-grader Jessica Rivera said.

Nationwide, more municipal governments are showing concern about after-school programs and their role in those programs more than ever before, according to the National League of Cities.

The partnership boosts economic development, increases public safety and gives two parallel political bodies, municipalities and school boards, a chance to work together, said Mark Ouellette, senior program associate with the League's Institute for Youth, Education and Families. After-school programs, like Phoenix's, provide cities the first opportunity to "get their feet wet and find out what they can provide" to schools, he said.

A fistful of central-city school districts already is participating in the new after-school program, including all four of Murphy's schools.

By spring, Phoenix officials hope to roll it into east Phoenix's Creighton Elementary School District and west Phoenix's Cartwright School District. Central Phoenix school districts are "the appropriate place to start," said Stanton, because it's "an area that has underperforming schools."

Officials hope to eventually expand it to all 166 participating schools.

"It's very important to the community," said Clay McAllester, principal at Jack L. Kuban School. "We have all the amenities of a YMCA. Otherwise there's not a lot in the community. They could be in the streets, and that's what we're fighting against."

Indeed, it's a harsh neighborhood: factories behind razor wire, vacant lots promising nothing but trouble. But the school grounds are an oasis. "It's a high crime area, and they're safe here," Martinez said. "They're our future, and we want them to succeed. They may live in the lower socioeconomic side, but we have to teach them to be successful."