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Drive needs quick results to save successful after-school program

Yoga, art, music, acting and foreign language classes for elementary students may sound expensive, time-consuming and perhaps even unattainable. But in Ashland public schools, they’re affordable and sometimes even free — at least, they were this past school year.

The three public Ashland elementary schools — Helman, Bellview and Walker — just wrapped up their first year of After School Enrichment Programs (ASEP). These programs take an hour after school Tuesday through Thursday to allow students to explore classes they might not otherwise have the opportunity to take.

Second- through fifth-grade students have the choice of a wide variety of courses in the fields of science, art, music, writing and language, to name a few — everything from growing a pollinator garden to soft-tipped archery. Three six-week courses are offered through the school year. Courses are free for students who receive free or reduced lunch and cost $20 per course (six classes), for everyone else.

The program was funded by the Ashland Schools Foundation, according to Susan Bacon, executive director of the nonprofit group.

Bacon said for the program to return next school year, ASF needs to raise $50,000 by June 20. That’s what it will take to keep the program subsidized and affordable for everyone. Roughly 40 percent of participants this year were low-income students whose tuition was waived.

“This current year that’s just wrapping up has been running on a deficit, so we did not get full funding for the current year,” Bacon said. “And so, we really can’t afford to go into another year on a deficit.”

ASF approved on Wednesday launching a month-long emergency funding campaign solely for ASEP. Bacon said money collected from the annual fund drive in April goes toward next year’s grant programs, which is why ASF is holding a separate fundraiser.

“If we don’t hit the $50,000 mark by June 20, donations received will be returned and ASF will be forced to close the program,” Bacon said. “Having this funding would free us up for the following school year, so we don’t have to do this kind of crisis management fundraising.”

Holly Kilpatrick, program coordinator for SOU Pre-College Youth Programs, said ASF asked SOU Youth to coordinate and administrate the pilot program. She said they hire instructors from within the community who are specialized in a given field. These instructors create their own curriculum and most work with all of the schools. For example, the engineering instructor Ash Friend, also works at ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum, and the archery instructor, Lloyd Canty, owns Moonbow Archery.

Jamie Haden, parent of an after-school student said her daughter found her love for art this past year.

“The After-School art classes provided by SOU Youth Programs and Ashland Schools Foundation was amazing,” Haden said. “My daughter was able to take several art classes this year and really improved her ability to draw gradients, she fell in love with acrylic painting and can’t get enough of ceramics in her hands. This program was awesome; I’m so grateful she was able to participate.”

Kilpatrick said these classes benefit both students and parents because they’re affordable, accessible and allow parents to expand the length of their day while their child is participating in an enriching activity while remaining at school.

“Over the years, there’s been more testing requirements, more directive curriculum, schools have less and less time to offer enrichment activities like art and music classes,” Bacon said. “We’re fortunate that we still have music programs in all of our elementary schools, but it’s not really enough. Having art in the classroom depends on whether the teacher is someone who can and is willing to do art, and science experiments take time.”

She said teachers may be overwhelmed at times with the expectation that they must teach 25-30 young children such a variety of subjects. ASEP classes are capped at 12 students.

“As an elementary school teacher, you’re expected to wear all of the hats that a variety of specialized teachers would wear at the middle school and high school level,” Kilpatrick said. “It really benefits the teachers.”

Liz O’Brien, ceramics instructor at Bellview, said she appreciates that this program creates a safe environment for students to explore their creative side.

“The program benefits students immensely. Art benefits children so that they can express themselves freely, increase their confidence and be a therapeutic outlet, and ASEP created that space for them,” O’Brien said.

Bacon said if the program is funded for next year, it will expand to include Willow Wind and John Muir students. She said although ASF can’t afford to bring the programs to those school campuses, the students can register and attend the courses at the three elementary schools that currently have ASEP.

Gina Winnett, parent of a participating student and owner of Win-In Properties, said as a business owner and single mother, she is very grateful to have this program in Ashland schools and hopes it will continue to expand.

“I think the classes should continue next year for a multitude of reasons,” Winnett said. “First, it’s the only one of its kind available in all of Southern Oregon. Secondly, it’s affordable for working and single families Fifthly, this program helps the children and parents in the Ashland community which is desperately needed given the cost of living in Ashland.”

It’s important to have ASEP at the elementary level because the structure of classes and availability of extracurricular activities differ so widely from the middle school level, Bacon said. In the middle school, there is a dedicated science class and students can participate in sports and the band, but elementary school doesn’t work in the same way.

“A number of students don’t normally have these opportunities within their school day and they don’t have these opportunities outside of the school because either they can’t afford it or maybe the parents don’t have the time to get them to these private lessons,” Bacon said.

Kilpatrick said they saw a high success rate within the first year, and a surprising jump in registration for the spring courses. She said she’s implemented many pilot programs and, in her experience, the first year is the most challenging because the system is new. But now that it’s there, families are used to the structure, and changes can be made based off feedback from parents and teachers. The following years are expected to be even more successful.

To make a donation to ASF for After School Enrichment Programs, go online to ashlandschoolsfoundation.org; mail a check to Ashland Schools Foundation, 100 Walker Ave, Ashland OR 97520; or call 541-482-8197.

— Contact Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.

Photo by Caitlin FowlkesAn after-school program participant works in the engineering class titled "Chain-Reaction Contraptions."
Photo by Caitlin FowlkesStudents play a game of "yogi says" in the After School Enrichment Program yoga course.