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Be true to your school

Learning doesn’t stop when the bell rings. These school resource programs ensure hungry young minds are well-fed

After-School All-Stars Las Vegas |

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What they do: After-School All-Stars offers free after-school programs in six middle schools and eight elementary schools that feed into them. So, when the bell rings at the end of the day at a school like Cashman Middle, about half the kids (450) stay. Their first after-school hour is educational — and each school’s All-Stars curriculum is tailored to that school’s needs. Some have tutoring; others have math or reading classes taught by school district teachers volunteering their time. The second hour is dedicated to sports, fitness or enrichment activities. There might be cooking classes, orchestra, dance with a teacher from Nevada Ballet Theatre, or sports clinics through UNLV’s outreach program. For After-School All-Stars elementary students, this even means a spring soccer league. The hook: Students must attend school, and the academic hour, to participate in the fun.

The difference: Through its partnership with Three Square, All-Stars’ 6,000 kids receive nutritious after-school meals five days a week. Furthermore, these students go to school more often, have fewer behavioral problems, and score 16 percent higher on achievement tests than their classmates. Participating schools are also showing improvement overall: Eight years ago, 13 percent of Martinez Elementary students met or exceeded math standards; today 46 percent are at mastery. Rex Bell was also at 13 percent; now it’s a five-star school.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Nevada |

What they do: Bigs regularly tutor Littles in eight high-need elementary schools. School district counselors identify students, typically from at-risk environments, who are in need of wise, adult, caring friends. Then Big Brothers finds compatible mentors to meet with these students in a classroom pull-out program when the Bigs work one-on-one with the Littles. Thirty minutes each week are dedicated to school work; another half-hour is committed to relationship-building — playing games, doing sports or just talking. Big Brothers Big Sisters has a similar after-school program at Boys & Girls Clubs.   

The difference: According to their own survey, 53 percent of Littles have improved confidence at school; 65 percent have better peer relationships; and there was a 29 percent decrease in school absences from the first to third trimester last year. But the true measure of success comes straight from the mouths of Littles: “I know that I get to stay in a regular school and classroom because of my Big Brother. He helps me learn to calm down and focus,” says Henry, a fourth-grader.

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Communities in Schools |

What they do: Part of the nation’s leading dropout-prevention organization, Communities in Schools delivers community resources to students. On-campus site coordinators  — in 12 high-risk schools in Southern Nevada and three in northeastern Nevada — work to help struggling students through intensive case-management. Collaboration is at the heart of the mission: If a student needs food, Communities will partner with Three Square; medical attention might be sought from Positively Kids; UNLV’s Counseling Department provides mental counseling. Whether a student needs tutoring, clothing, eyeglasses or even help with the family’s utility bills, Communities seeks to connect them with the community support they need.       

The difference: Through the collaborative efforts of Communities and the school district, Nevada’s student dropout rate — although still the worst in the nation — is decreasing: In 2010, 120 students dropped out every day; this year, we’re only losing 94 students daily. For every dollar donated, Communities estimates an $11.60 return on investment, considering the financial contributions that high school graduates will inevitably make to the community versus the social welfare costs associated with dropouts.

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Las Vegas-Clark County Library District |

What they do: So much, and for all ages. The district’s Children’s Services Department has weekly story times for preschoolers, with the objective of school readiness. Family literacy programs teach parents how to read with kids, modeling techniques to nurture an early love of reading and learning. The Homework Help initiative offers free tutoring in seven branches, as well as several online resources including online tutors, practice tests, and skills building exercises — all through the library’s website. Computers are available for students to use after school. Basic reading, English language, and citizenship classes are also offered for adults.

The difference: Today’s library services include so much more than just book lending, although they still do that, too — and ebooks are even available for downloading to e-readers. All that is required is a library card — free with proof of address. (Students require a parent’s permission.)

Positively Kids |

What they do: Since 1999, this charity has been serving medically fragile children, but now Positively Kids is also working to keep at-risk students healthy — because sick kids don’t perform well in class. In November 2012, Positively Kids stepped in to manage the Casey Jones Health Center, built several years ago on the Elaine Wynn Elementary School campus, but never used. The clinic is now open year-round to offer wellness and dental services to families, insured or not, from Wynn and surrounding schools, at half off or for free if necessary. Some patients have appointments; others walk in; and still others run straight from the playground with skinned knees. (Positively Kids is due to begin managing a clinic at Cunningham School in 2013.)      

The difference: Typically, underprivileged children don’t regularly visit the doctor’s unless they are terribly sick. Through these clinics in schools, Positively Kids will see that students have access to regular physicals and vaccinations. A social worker on staff is available to assist families to get Medicaid or Nevada Check Up. 

[HEAR MORE: What makes a five-star school? Hear a discussion on “ KNPR’s State of Nevada.”]

The Public Education Foundation |

What they do: Since 1991, The Public Education Foundation has been building bridges between businesses, community leaders, government and public education — with innovation being a top priority. Leadership Institute of Nevada is The Public Education Foundation’s leadership development initiative, newly designed to create real solutions for Nevada education issues. Experts from across the country are being sought to advise school administrators on cutting-edge practices. Teacher EXCHANGE is its green initiative, whereby 1 million pounds of electronic hardware, paper and other materials have been collected for teachers to reuse. Promoting literacy is another priority. Through Clark County READS, students get books and volunteers are trained to teach struggling readers. As part of Artists 4 Kidz, an initiative to educate children in the arts, local musicians, instructors and music students recently performed together at The Smith Center, in the first of an orchestral concert series.    

The difference: Through Clark County READS’ Library Enhancement program, 85,000 new nonfiction books were donated to nine elementary schools. The Public Education Foundation also offers annual grant opportunities to teachers and has awarded 3,000 scholarships to high school seniors, totaling $7 million, since 2004.

School-Community Partnership Program |

What they do: This unique branch of the Clark County School District facilitates partnership opportunities between schools and the community in almost every way imaginable. For instance: The Focus School project matches high-risk schools with businesses or organizations willing to connect them with resources through Adopt-a-School. Support-a-School publishes online school wish lists for anybody to fulfill — some schools need pencils and paper, others want smart boards. The Stay in School Mentoring Project provides adult mentors to students at risk of dropping out. Safe Routes to School helps ensure exactly that. These are only a few of the projects going on here. The program also seeks volunteers, speakers and school event sponsors.

The difference: Businesses are able to connect with the schools in an easier way, making scholarships, grant money and essay contests more accessible to teachers and students. Students and teachers are also thrilled with various donations and the outside-the-classroom opportunities that the partnership program affords them, such as excursions to The Smith Center.

United Way of Southern Nevada |

What they do: United Way starts with preschoolers: Because studies show that kids who are succeeding by third grade are likely to stay in school and earn a diploma, United Way has partnered with 21 Child Development Centers to offer 350 scholarships annually for economically challenged families to secure strong starts for wee ones. It also provides the early childhood curriculum and professional development scholarships to teachers. Plus, it supports Family Engagement and Resource Centers across the valley to engage parents in their children’s education, and it has implemented engagement offices in five underperforming high schools to deliver academic and social support to at-risk students. To prevent school interruptions caused by health or financial problems, United Way also supports programs such as Shots for Tots, a vaccination program; medical clinics for uninsured or underinsured families; free income tax preparation for qualifying families; and with the school district, United Way is beta-testing a web-based interactive training program whereby students learn about credit, student loans, mortgages and 596 other financially related topics to teach them how to manage their financial futures.             

The difference: Three years into FERC, high school attendance is better; the GPA is increasing; and national test scores are higher—all indicators that next year’s graduating class (comprised of the first students who’ve been benefitting from the program through the full course of their high school years) will have a higher graduation rate.