LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — School is out for the day at Helen Herr Elementary School, and some students are tending to their on-campus garden.
"We're growing zucchini, squash, chili peppers,” said Xavier Omar.
Xavier is a fifth grader whose teacher saw him struggling to behave in the classroom. Now he's blossoming right along with the seeds he enjoys planting.
"We like cleaning up and learning about the environment and different plants.”
His instructor said his behavior problems have become virtually nonexistent.
But a lot of kids in Clark County are not like Xavier. They spend their evenings home alone, unsupervised and in front of the TV, playing video games or worse!
"In what we call ‘that danger time,’ “said Jodi Manzella. “Once that school bell rings and in between when their parent or guardian returns home."
Manzella is the Executive Director of After-School All-Stars - it’s a free after-school program serving 6500 students in 16 Clark County elementary and middle schools - all of them are Title 1 schools.
"So the students come from the lower socioeconomic areas of town,” Manzella said. “And their parents or guardians may not have that disposable income to provide a solution for their children in the after school hours."
One the day that 13 Action News visited, by 3:30 p.m. students had already had a snack, tossed their backpacks to the ground and were participating in "Go. Move. Dance." - a program provided through a partnership with the Nevada Ballet Theater.
But these kids weren't just stretching their muscles they flex their brain power too with one hour of academic instruction with teachers to raise their grades and improve test scores.
"To help them with reading, writing, and math. Then tutoring and homework help,” Manzella said.
It’s filling the hours after class, helping close the achievement gap .and plugging holes in school budgets.
"A school may have lost some funding for an art class so that we will have an art class after school,” she said.
At Helen Herr this also a coding class, a sewing class, and even field trips.
"We take them to local businesses to learn what's going on in the world of work, sporting events, “ Manzella said. “We take them hiking up at Red Rock."
It doesn't cost parents or the schools anything. And because students have to go to school to participate it also improves attendance which is often a problem at many low performing schools. Right now there's a waiting list of students and schools who want to be After-School All-Stars.
"They know that their students are safe here. They are learning. They are getting help with their homework. They are getting physical activity. They are getting fed,” Manzella said explaining the high demand for the program.
But none of this is possible without strong community partnerships that help pay for the instructors and the activities.
"So the more partners that we can get from the community, whether it's a corporation or individuals wanting to make donations to our program; the more students we can keep safe and impact with our mind enriching programs,” said Manzella.