Most students in the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) go home at the end of the school day, but about 3,000 students remain on campus to participate in enrichment classes and receive academic instruction. These kindergarten-through-12th-graders are enrolled in PasadenaLearns, an after-school program operating at 23 schools.
Maria Tolliver, the program’s coordinator, explains the goal of PasadenaLearns “is to expose students to a variety of opportunities they don’t usually get during the school day. We seek to broaden their horizons, to provide more opportunities to learn skills and do new things.”
For children whose parents work and are not home when the school day ends, Tolliver says PasadenaLearns “provides a safe place for kids to be after school. They get to really maximize their time after school in terms of new activities and experiences.”
PasadenaLearns’ classes are typically offered in four nine-week blocks, with each school choosing a theme for each block reflecting its curriculum. At Franklin Elementary School, for example, “Imagination” was the theme of one block during the current 2015-16 school year. Site Coordinator Linda Voong says the enrichment classes selected to complement this theme were “Click It Up!” a photography course; “Ask Google,” in which students learn to use search engines in order to conduct research for school assignments; and “Recycled Art,” in which students create artwork from recycled materials.
Esperanza Muñoz, site coordinator at Wilson Middle School, says the theme for PasadenaLearns during the current school year is “The Wilson Times,” in which students will be exposed to different periods of history during each block of courses. The first block, “The Time of Genesis,” focused on early civilizations; “The Middle Ages” featured lessons in architectural history, with students building churches, castles and other features of medieval realms. As part of the curriculum for “The Enlightenment Period,” students will earn about the history of the printing press and will create their own newsletter.
Some of the other elementary and middle school enrichment courses provide instruction in computer coding, design and engineering, nutrition and cooking, visual arts, performing arts, graphic design, foreign language (Mandarin, Spanish Armenian), video making, web design, poetry and journalism, as well as sports activities such as golf, tennis, basketball, dance/cheer and soccer.
In addition, kindergarten-through-eighth-grade students can enroll in academic courses such as Book Club, in which they develop their reading and language skills, and Problem of the Day, in which groups of students solve a daily math problem. Students can also receive assistance with their homework.
PasadenaLearns sponsors the Science Olympiad, an annual science competition in which second-through-eighth-grade students compete in tests and hands-on activities, with one school designated the overall district winner.
High school students participating in PasadenaLearns can also enroll in numerous enrichment courses, including computer coding, driver’s education, health and fitness, CPR/first aid certification, visual arts, performing arts and dance.
The College Access Plan class helps students with the college application process, including writing their personal statements and applying for scholarships.
Career Exploration seeks to prepare students for the work force. Fulcrum Leadership Development aims to enhance students’ leadership skills, teaching them to collaborate and work as a team, solve problems and resolve conflicts. High schools also offer SAT/ACT preparation classes, one-on-one tutoring and sports activities.
PUSD students must fill out an application to enroll in the after-school program. They are selected on a first-come first-served basis and have to re-enroll every year. Students must also apply for PasadenaLearns’ summer program, which features enrichment activities, academic classes and field trips. Tolliver says about 1,800 students were enrolled in last summer’s program.
PUSD has operated PasadenaLearns since 1999 and provides some of its funding. Financing also comes from two state programs — the After School Education & Safety Program, which offers money to elementary and middle schools, and the 21st Century High School Asset Grant.
A site coordinator at each school supervises the program. Classes are taught by PUSD teachers and about 200 youth leaders, who are also district employees.
In addition, service providers who are not district employees teach some of the specialized courses. For example, Rayuela, a Spanish immersion program, teaches enrichment classes in Spanish at Jackson and San Rafael elementary schools. Instructors from the Los Angeles-based Harmony Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to music education for low-income students, teach beginning string classes at Longfellow Elementary School and stage a concert featuring student performers.
In the future, Tolliver says she would like the program to offer engineering and science courses and provide more “hands on” experience for children to build and create things. Students in one class, she explains, built roller coasters, while kids studying medieval history during the summer made coats of arms, catapults and shields.
Through these and other activities, she says, PasadenaLearns gives students “a place to go where they get into lots of new and interesting things they wouldn’t get to do if they were just going home after school.”