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ASES program grows in popularity to all K-6 schools
Kindergartners at Sinclear Elementary Schools ASES program are led into an enrichment activity led by recreational leaders Isabel Casillas (right) and Mikayla Petty (left). - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

It used to be that if you had to stay on the campus when the school rang its last bell for the day, it was because you were serving detention.

That's no longer the case. Five days a week after school, approximately 3,250 Ceres students stick around their respective campuses for an after-school program that is growing in popularity.

The After School Education and Safety (ASES) program offers a number of activities for Ceres students at 13 elementary school and the three junior high school campuses who otherwise might go home to an empty house because parents work. About 20 percent of students in ASES have parents at home but just enjoy doing things after the school day ends. Dallas Plaa, the new director of ASES, said each site engages 200 to 300 students during sessions with the highest attendance at 350.

Students participate in a number of projects designed to keep them interested, including art, skits, projects, watching slide shows and dance. Mondays through Thursdays they can also receive help with understanding or completing homework. All Ceres campuses have Wi-Fi and students have their Chromebooks to access educational websites for small blocks of time. For the first time ASES now offers intramural sports in soccer, flag football and basketball. There are also volleyball and tetherball activities to enjoy.

"Many families work until 5 p.m. and ASES provides our families with a great opportunity to keep kids off the street or at home alone until 6 p.m. so parents don't have to worry about all that," said Plaa. "And it's nice and free to everybody."

Not all participants are latchkey children. Plaa said there are some parents who like their kids playing in the new intramural sports program, with practices with high school volunteers. Games are played at individual sites on Mondays and Fridays with champion teams bussed to other ASES sites to compete against other school champions. The championship game is played at Hanline Elementary School where a DJ and pizza party are added bonuses.

"They keep their kids in the program so they can participate in different activities," said Plaa. "The kids get to play and hang out with their friends and it's just a cool place for some kids to go."

At Hidahl Elementary the ASES students participated in the Healthy Air Living program. Other sites have engaged students in team-building exercises to combat bullying.

For 90 minutes each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday all ASES sites offer and academic intervention program taught by 80 credentialed teachers. The first 45 minutes is devoted to intervention instruction and the remaining 45 minutes is focused on homework support. The junior highs and high schools also offer after school tutoring support for the students who struggle in academics.

About another 120 employees help with homework, recreation and enrichment programs.

"We have people who are just getting their diplomas out of high school, we have a lot of kids who are going to CSU Stanislaus or MJC and they're just trying to get some hours to pay for that stuff," said Plaa. "We're also are opening it up to some high school seniors, too, who are on track to graduate and they need work permits through the high schools. We've got a focused effort on trying to get as much staff to help provide to all these kids."
Volunteers from the district's Project YES program also volunteer to get job experience.

To keep up their energy ASES supplies snacks and a drink and 10 sites supply meals consisting of a food entry, fruit, vegetables and milk. One of the sites offers CHEF program where families come and learn how to cook healthy meals. They also get to take food bags home with them if they attend the program.

ASES operates on a $2 million budget which receives a $1.3 million ASES state grant, coupled with Local Control Funding Formula (LCAP) funds and Title I funds. Plaa said there are no income qualifications and the district, unlike others, does not charge families.

"Most school districts they cap at 86 students, that's all that ASES pays for," said ASES aide Shelley Madrigal who is in charge of five sites. "Ceres has it open so we serve every student that would like to come to the program."

Madrigal said her daughter attended Riverbank schools and last year she paid $120 per month to be in the ASES program there because she did not qualify for free and reduced lunches.

"Needless to say, my daughter is now in Ceres Unified," said Madrigal.

At Sinclear Elementary - which has one of the largest attendance for ASES - there are 12 recreation leaders under site supervisor Devyn Dollard and additional paraprofessionals on site.

"I think the kids really like it," said Dollard. "It gives them an opportunity to finish their homework and then they do some organized activities and games. Some get a little sad when they get picked up."

Madrigal said the program emphasizes that students are not to isolate themselves and if they are on the playing fields they need to be active.

The program runs from after school until 6 p.m. Parents can designate to have their children walk home if in fourth through sixth grades, while some sites have bus routes or parents pick them up.