ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Aaliyah Coleman has mastered a twirl in folklorico dancing, held a pose during yoga practice and taken on video editing, all thanks to an after-school program called Community For Learning.
The third-grader at Coronado Elementary School loves her after-school program so much, she becomes upset when her mom picks her up early.
Aaliyah’s mom, Kenda Coleman, likes the program, too, because it provides a safe environment with engaging activities for her daughter. It also allows Coleman to keep her regular work hours as an auditor.
“Sometimes I have to work late, and I like that this program plans activities and helps with her homework and writing instead of her sitting in front of the TV or with an iPad at home with a baby sitter,” Coleman said.
Community For Learning, a nonprofit group started in 2007 as Community FaithLinks by a social worker, was created for just this reason. Anne Apodaca, executive director of the nonprofit, wanted to provide children of working parents a safe place before and after school that did more than just allow the children to run around.
Each Community For Learning program – there are eight placed at various Albuquerque elementary schools – has a structured schedule that includes a full meal, homework time and then play time with activities such as theater, yoga, Lego building, jewelry-making and art projects. The after-school program is run by a site
coordinator and several instructors from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week.
The program also helps improve reading skills for struggling students, while providing emotional and social support through its Project RISE, funded by United Way of Central New Mexico.
“We’re not just a baby-sitting program, but an enrichment program,” Apodaca said. “We’re here to help kids and their families be successful.”
Kathy Phillips has worked as an Albuquerque Public Schools teacher for 23 years and said she appreciates that the program provides structure, takes the child’s developmental age into consideration when planning activities and that the staff members really care for the children.
The program does not have a means for collecting data to show student improvement and success. It does have anecdotal information.
Christine Coulson, known to the children as Aunt Tina, has worked as a site coordinator for three years at Coronado’s Community. “I see the kids grow in confidence and self-esteem, and their ability to interact with one another and be cooperative,” Coulson said. She said staff members work on the children’s academic skills, as well as address their social and emotional needs.
Phillips likes the program so much, she sends her own kindergarten-aged son to it five days a week.
“I’ve seen a lot of after-school programs in my 23 years of teaching and this one is really good,” Phillips said.
Community building is also part of the nonprofit’s mission. Apodaca said she and her staff of 52 adjust programs based on the community and participate in events outside of regular work hours. For example, staff members volunteer in Coronado’s school garden club, and staffers participate in Parent Teacher Associations and host family nights once per semester at all the schools.
“They’re passionate about the kids and being active in the school,” said Gabriel Antillon, Coronado’s PTA vice president who has a first-grade son who attends the program in the mornings.
Community For Learning is at eight mainly low-income schools right now, but wants to add two schools each year and eventually provide programming for middle and high school students. Some public schools already have after-school programs in place though other organizations, but there are many schools that do not.
According to research collected annually by the After School Alliance, an organization that works to ensure children have access to after-school programs, 90,659 New Mexican children were alone and unsupervised by adults after school in 2014. More than a third of parents who responded to the organization’s survey said they would enroll their child in an after-school program if it were available to them.
“Our biggest challenge is how do we sustain these programs at schools of need?” said Mike De Baca, chief operations officer for Community For Learning.
Some families struggle to pay the $25 to $35 program fee per week, and federal grants and state reimbursement programs cover only so many students. Of about 500 students in Community For Learning’s programs, more than half are covered by grants from the Department of Education and that funding isn’t guaranteed after the grant’s four-year cycle is up.
The nonprofit will apply for the grant again and is looking for other sources of funding, including businesses, organizations and individuals.
“It’s a struggle, but it’s a mission for us,” De Baca said.
The nonprofit is holding its annual fundraising golf tournament during the summer. For information, visit its website at nmcfl.org.