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After School Program Success At El Portal

Getting homework done, having time outside for some physical activity, and taking part in some interesting projects ... all are facets of the after school program offered at El Portal Middle School.

Put on through the 'No Child Left Behind' initiative, the program is offered free to all students at the school, from sixth though eighth grades. Officials said while participation has been steady this year, there is room for more students and they want to bolster their numbers in hopes of keeping the program going next year.

"It's kind of fun ... you can do your homework and on Friday you get to do fun stuff, watch movies," said sixth grader Michaela Ratti, 12.

Fellow sixth grader Jason Doskocz, 12, said he enjoys having the chance to practice his music and occasionally getting the opportunity to play the Wii after homework is all done.

Students typically stay within their assigned group, unless they're doing a specific activity that features all students. Those activities in the past have included some sports competitions and experiments in science, like last year's popular rocket project, combining soda and candy to blast a rocket off a 2-liter bottle of soda.

"This year has been more successful overall," said Eric Lloyd, serving as the site manager. "We have higher reenrollment, more opportunity for the kids."

A coordinator last year, Lloyd is the supervisor this year and works with his three site coordinators, Alyssa Hardcastle, Shawndra Kuffel and Krista Barker.

Lloyd said he enjoys developing activities for the kids and working with them to plan out things to do.

"We have high hopes of keeping the program going," he said.

Any student can join at any time, they just need to fill out an application. There are no fees and every student is eligible to participate.

"I think the PE aspect of it is a favorite," Lloyd admitted of what students enjoy most about the afternoon. "They're super excited about doing sports on the Wii, too, in a more technical fashion."

Some other new features this year have included introduction of a newspaper for the after school program and a drama club, where the students wrote a variation of 'Cinderella' to perform.

Site coordinators work with the students in specific areas, from the enrichment/homework assistance to the physical education and the special events.

"I like to interact with the kids, helping to keep them healthy by having them doing things, not just sitting at home watching TV," said Hardcastle.

Kuffel said they seem appreciative of the homework help most days as well, getting it out of the way before they head home.

"It's constructive help," she said. "I think they like that."

For 13-year-old seventh grader Maria Raya, having the chance to be with her friends longer is a major draw, along with the soccer games they enjoy at the program. Hailey Tulley, 12, a sixth grader, said she likes the "fun activities" they get to do and also appreciates help with her homework.

Lloyd said they are scheduling a few more events before the end of the school year, with a multicultural day being planned for April, with some guest speakers to be brought in.

There are 64 students registered for the program this school year, with attendance averaging about 55 per day. More information is available by contacting the school, 838-7095.