BY EMILY INNES – ART & LEISURE EDITOR
The After School Program (ASP) is a campus-housed and student-led organization that serves educationally disadvantaged students in the Danville and Boyle County communities. The program is open to elementary through high school students, with most participants being ESL students. Centre students established the program several years ago to provide a mentoring service to ESL students who might feel at a disadvantage compared to their peers whose parents speak English at home.
The children are dropped off by their school bus or picked up from school by a member of the ASP leadership team and brought to campus every Tuesday and Thursday, where they meet with their mentor for a few hours at the Kitty Baird Center. Each Centre mentor is paired with one student for the entire semester, and helps him or her with homework, or plays educational games with them. For the last half hour of the session, the program partners with different Centre organizations, teams, clubs, etc. to do an activity, ranging from crafts to dance parties to field hockey.
In my conversations with Centre mentors, it is amazing to see what being a part of ASP means to them and how it has positively impacted their lives. While providing an invaluable service to the community, it also creates memorable experiences for the Centre students. Junior Stacy Crescencio, who currently serves as the program director, has volunteered for ASP for three years. “I was inspired by my own background as a child of immigrants and non-English speaking parents myself. I love the chance to be someone the students can relate to and also associate with the word ‘college student,” she said.
Cresencio describes her favorite memories with ASP as when students who were previously having trouble participating finally took part in one of the planned activities that piqued their interest. “When moments like those happen, the face of joy on the child’s face remains imprinted in my memory and I hope to continue collecting those,” she explained.
But besides the fun and games, Crescencio loves going around the room and observing as mentors and their students work on homework, read, or take part in an activity together. It hits a personal chord for her, and reinforces the importance of the program for the students. “As the shy student growing up, I enjoy watching the kids grow in confidence through the motivation and sense of self-worth they receive from their mentors,” she said.
A first-time mentor, sophomore Molly Bohanan heard about ASP through a friend, and realized it was the perfect program for her because she missed interacting with children and wanted to be more involved in the community. So far, her favorite memory was when she and her student made cards for each other last fall. “She drew me a card with my name in big letters on it and on the inside she said that I was too bossy, but that sometimes I was a fun bossy type. It was just a great moment!” she said.
Bohanan finds being surrounded by children awarding “because it provides hope for the future and it allows for a break from all the stress of college; you just get to tutor, hang out with, and care for a child,” she said. She enjoys being able to watch a child learn and is humbled to know that she helped with that process. “I also think it’s very humbling because it makes you, the tutor, appreciate all the mentors and the help that you received on the way and how you can share that with someone else,” she added.
Sophomore Shannon Murray also began her involvement with ASP this year, when it became her Bonner service site. As she was deciding which organization to dedicate her next three years to through the Bonner program, ASP stood out as the perfect fit. “I knew that I loved working with kids from past service experience; they are just incredibly genuine and always make me laugh. And I see the education and mentoring component as being very impactful,” she said. She describes how she drives some of the students home this semester, and on the first day all seven students began belting out the words to a new Ed Sheeran song, ending in a fit of giggles before proceeding to talk about funny things they had done to their siblings. “Mind you, our group of kids is comprised of two families, so it got pretty personal. I could not stop laughing the entire ride!” she said.
For Murray, the most rewarding part about working with ASP has been getting to know the students individually and being able to talk with them about their favorite book series or their latest class project. Since she does not have a student of her own this semester, she enjoys just walking around and seeing all the laughs and smiles, as well as the progress the students are making with their mentors. “I can be stressed out about school, friends, and every other commitment under the sun, and the moment the kids come in off the bus I am a happier person. it probably sounds ridiculously cheesy, but I am so amazed at how genuinely excited and eager the students are that I can’t help but want to be in a better mood for them,” she explained.
The dedication and enthusiasm of the Centre mentors is truly admirable. They recognize and appreciate the importance of having the opportunity to engage with the community in this way. “It helps educate Centre students on a subset of the population that is largely present in Danville as well as in our nation as a whole. From them and their experience we can see the real life effects of much that we learn in courses such as politics, psychology, and even micro-economics” Crescencio said. It helps them escape the “Centre bubble” and remain in touch with something so real and part of our country such as the experience of young children who continue to be at the center of the education gap our country faces.
Bohanan adds to this by explaining how, as educated students and as an institution of higher learning, the mentors can and should share that education and the joy of learning. “I think it’s a good reminder of why we’re here and how important it is to help others,” she said.
Additionally, the After School Program provides a place where students can improve their English language skills at their own pace, with their tutor and the rest of the program supporting them every step of the way. “Where some students might have to switch back and forth between schools over their elementary and middle school years, ASP is a place of consistency,” Murray explains. The students are also then exposed to many unique and integral groups at Centre. “Whether it’s learning about another culture, or the importance of teamwork, or just to be confident by dancing and being silly, they are able to gain so much from the examples set by leaders at Centre,” she added.