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Program Offers Chance For After School Fun
From Bocce Ball tournaments to making race cars, dramatic presentations to exploring rocketry, there's never a shortage of things to do at the after school program for El Portal Middle School students.

With a staff of five through the Give Every Child A Chance program, the free after school activities run Monday through Friday, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and offer homework help, enrichment activities, sports and a snack.

Operating for the last few years at El Portal, local program manager Shawndra Kuffel said students seem to enjoy it and the free program is a boon to many working parents, who are sure their children are getting homework help and not having to be 'latch key' children.

Kuffel leads the staff at El Portal, which also includes Eric Lloyd, EHS alum Annie Gallego, Jesus Jimenez and Eden Harwell.

"They all rotate between the P.E. and enrichment activities," Kuffel said of all leaders able to work with the students at a variety of activities. "And they all help with homework."

A recent afternoon saw Gallego leading students in a bocce ball competition for those that wanted to take part in the physical education component, while Jimenez took the lead in helping those inside put together mouse trap race cars. Lloyd was working with others on artwork and Harwell was busy with some extra homework assignments.

"They come in right after school," Kuffel explained of the students, who continue their time at El Portal by reporting to the cafeteria/multi-purpose room after the regular classes end. "They have a snack and then there is homework time."

That is followed by the two sessions, PE and enrichment.

"At the end of the day there is a final session where everyone comes together once again," Kuffel said.

The program has proven valuable for students, who get some extra homework help and then don't have to worry about taking their work home. It is open to all students, sixth through eighth grades, free of charge. Kuffel said attendance is good, with students that take part in after school sports also able to come in until their sport begins.

"We've had quite a few fun things this year," she added, with the use of a MacBook allowing for more creativity on the computer, including the students making commercials and a comic book.

"We're also really focused more this year on the STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math," Kuffel said of helping students meet school standards as an added bonus of the program. There is also a field trip planned, with the El Portal staff members winning a recent program 'bowl a thon' to get their site the field trip award.

The program brings in anywhere from 50 to 65 students on an average day, said Kuffel.

"I like how it's fun and entertaining," said sixth grader Olivia Lawrence.

"The help for the homework is good, and I like how we get to do a lot of fun activities," agreed sixth grader Meaghan Lau.

Seventh grader Kayli Peterson added: "My friends come here so that's the upside to it. Plus we do a lot of fun activities."

For seventh grader Eva Shipley, the variety of craft projects, including a recent one where she made a bracelet, are the most enjoyable.

"My homework's pretty easy," she said of not always needing the extra help in that area. "But making bracelets was fun."

Escalon High 2010 graduate Annie Gallego said she enjoys being one of the leaders at El Portal, working with the students in a fun, productive environment.

Upcoming projects this week include making St. Patrick's Day bracelets on March 14, with - weather permitting - a kick ball tournament on Friday, March 16.

Egypt will be the focus on March 20, with Frisbee baseball on March 21 and an 'Apples to Apples' game tournament on March 28.

"This is a great program," said sixth grader Ashley Leon. "My brother and I just love it."