SELMA – Night was falling Oct. 24 but Selma High was still boisterous with the music pumping, tacos being served and the laughter of students as they scuttled from one book-themed booth to another.
It was the first Lights On event sponsored by the California Teaching Fellows and Fresno County Office of Education after-school programs. Organizers say the event gave them a chance to showcase the numerous activities that take place even after the bell rings at the end of the school day.
“We wanted to bring in the community, showcase our program, show what the tutors work hard for and get to know our parents since they’re always working,” Selma High after-school program site leader Naomi Garcia said.
Each Selma Unified school used a different children’s book or series as the theme for their booth. As students and parents wandered through the quad playing games, they shared what they enjoyed about the program and told of the difference it makes in their lives.
Garcia said that at the high school level, there are 450 students enrolled who are free to participate as much as they choose. It’s all free and unlike the elementary level, there’s no waiting list. Those who are consistent in attendance, however, get to take field trips such as a recent trip to Wonder Valley.
“They come in and out depending on the sports season. There are also the off-site programs like the Bigs program at Garfield, Roosevelt and Eric White and at the animal shelter,” she said.
Similar to all the after-school programs, there are tutoring, enrichment and physical education activities that take place. And depending on that month’s theme, there are different activities throughout the year.
For that night’s first Lights On showcase, another goal was to promote literacy.
“Our book theme was based on ‘Divergent’ so each of my tutors has a faction,” Garcia said.
At other booths, children wandered through Wilson Elementary’s “Alice in Wonderland” rabbit hole, got spooked at Jackson’s “Goosebumps” haunted house or played barnyard games at Terry Elementary’s “Charlotte’s Web” booth.
Parent Mario Sanchez brought his children, Alyssa, Isabella and Sebastian, and watched as Eric White after-school tutor Adelaida Esquibel painted their faces at their Dr. Seuss-themed booth.
The Sanchez children attend Andrew Jackson and their father said since both he and his wife work rotating schedules, it’s a relief knowing their children are being supervised.
“I love the fact that when school’s over, they have a safe place to go after school where they can be with their friends and the teachers can help them with the homework and review what they did for the day,” Sanchez said. “The cool thing about it is they even feed the kids so they’re not hungry and cranky. The program puts us at ease and we don't have to rush home. We know the kids are safe.”
Even the students agreed the programs give them a chance to do crafts, get homework help with tough subjects like math and reading and offer fun activities such as dance, cheer and science camps.
Suzette Castillo, a sixth-grader at Wilson, said she’s been attending the after-school programs since second grade.
“When you get there, they help you with your homework. They’ll have supper there and you get to do fun activities outside and then arts and crafts. It’s more fun than just being at home because they help you with your reading.”
“I like the teachers, the activities like Trunk or Treat and the movies,” her school mate Azalia Betancourt said.
“We’re going to do dancing and we get to do exercise,” Wilson fifth grader Yurisvi Vargas said. “Miss Sanchez is teaching us and now we’re going to dance here at the high school. The after-school program is awesome.”
Lizette Chavez, one tutor at Andrew Jackson’s after-school program, said since there are a limited number of spaces at the elementary level, a waiting list has been started at their school. She said the demand shows how much the students, and tutors, enjoy having the program.
“We do homework then each one of us has a different class. I teach a science class and accessories where we make necklaces and bracelets. I like working with the kids. I have first-graders so I love it.”