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After School Program Pays Dividends
It's far more than a glorified babysitting service.

Called that by some at its beginning a few years ago, the After School Program in Riverbank serves close to 1,000 children each weekday, is financed by state and federal funds and benefits not only the children but everybody from their working parents who need a safe and supervised place for their youngsters to classroom aides who appreciate the jobs.

The national program, according to the website, "supports creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high poverty and low performing schools. These programs help students meet state and local student standards in core academic subjects such as reading and math, offers students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs and offers literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children."

A typical day, in other words, offers a mixture of academic education, physical activities, enrichment programs and just plain fun.

Take "Fun Friday," for instance, at the After School program for Rio Altura and the Riverbank Language Academy located on the same campus. Once several hundred children had mustered in the multipurpose room and enjoyed snacks of chips and milk, one of the program's leaders Mayra Bravo entertained them with a kind of 'Fear Factor' game that involved blindfolding four children and inviting them to eat dishes of ice cream with what they were told were chocolate sprinkles on top.

Except the "sprinkles" were dead, dried crickets, guaranteed harmless and fully edible, and sold in plastic packets purchased from a novelty store. Most of the children said they tasted like bread and were tasty. Only one little girl headed for the bathroom after finding out what she had eaten.

The afternoon's program continued with classroom screenings of two movies, "Despicable Me" and "Tangled" or outdoor games of dodge ball and four corners. The children had the option of choosing movies or games and could move between them if they wanted.

Finally, they came inside to classrooms to do homework, with the help of aides, or pursue other academic work.

Everything about the program is large. It provides activities for half the school district's total enrollment and at all its schools - even the newest school Mesa Verde started its own on-campus program this month. The After School Care Together In Our Neighborhood (ACTION) program, to give its full name, employs more than 80 adults, as leaders, advisors and aides plus some high school students, said Aleah Rosario, who works for a private company called Consult For Kids that advises After School programs throughout California and ensures they meet state academic standards.

She also works with the huge Los Angeles Region 11 program but Riverbank is one of her favorite programs and she visits here several times a week.

Each school has a program leader, Monica Villareal at California Avenue Elementary, Brianna Lopez at Rio Altura Elementary, Angela Gabrie at Mesa Verde Elementary and Paul Corona at Cardozo Middle School. There are two leaders at Riverbank High, Vanessa Martinez and Lilliana Hernandez.

The program even provides bus transportation home for children attending Rio Altura and Cardozo, for those students whose parents don't have vehicles.

The funding, with both state and federal money included, came to more than $1.7 million last year.

Beginning around 2:15 p.m. at most schools as soon as the regular program day ends, ACTION runs until 6 p.m.