There's more school after school
Young voices spilled out from the community center at the Butte County Housing Authority in Gridley one afternoon, greeting more children as they arrived on foot or by bicycle.
Inside, youngsters sat at tables filled with homework papers ranging from math to language to reading as they worked alone or turned to the adults and middle-school students ready to help them with their schoolwork.
“We are making a big impact academically with the kids,” said teacher Kathy McKenzie, coordinator of the after-school homework program since it began in January 2001. “We're sure of it.”
Help is available from 3:30 to 6 p.m. weekdays from mid-September to mid-May for students from kindergarten to sixth grade who live in the housing area. About 50 students attend each day.
Families living at the site east of Gridley's city limits must earn a portion of their yearly income from farm labor, said a Gridley Housing Authority spokeswoman. The farm labor housing, open year round, has 130 units.
The homework help program received funding its first four years from the Butte County After School Homework Grant available through the Gridley Unified School District.
Now, the Migrant Education program provides money for high school tutors from Gridley High School. They must live in the housing area. The school district gives supplies, and the Housing Authority provides snacks and cleaning supplies.
Tutors from Butte College also receive school credit and payment.
Community groups that donate include Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary, Quota and Key clubs in Gridley. Donations have helped provide such perks as a students' summer trip to the Berkeley Marina.
Neither McKenzie nor Margaret Wilburn, teachers at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Gridley, is paid for her time.
The teachers are “trying to work with English literacy,” McKenzie said. Currently, the program's students are all Hispanic, several with parents who speak limited English. “There's a long way to go, but their (students') hearts are in it,” she said.
Wilson School second-grade student Grecia Ponce, 7, likes attending the program “because they help me,” she said, looking up from her work. With a shy smile, she added, “And so I could play a little bit here.”
Grecia's older brother, Eduardo Ponce, 13, sat at another table helping younger students for the second year.
“I like coming here and helping little kids,” he said.
Roldan Guzman, 13, was helping students for the first time. He received help several years ago. “I enjoy helping little children. When I was in the fourth grade, I needed help with my homework (and I know) they need help too,” he said as he helped a youngster with a book.
Both older students attend eighth grade at Sycamore School. Seventh- and eighth-grade students must be on the honor roll to tutor the younger kids.
Wilburn came back to teaching after retiring eight years ago and enjoys helping in the after school program.
“The children don't have to be here but they're here to get help and they do better in school,” she said. “And I love the kids.”
McKenzie hopes to get funding for the site to pay educators with credentials.
But in the meantime, “As long as parents support us by sending their children, we'll keep the doors open,” she said.
HOW TO HELP
Monetary donations may be sent to the After School Homework Program, 385 Ford Ave., Gridley, CA 95948.
To donate items, such as games, stickers, craft supplies and sweatshirts, call Kathy McKenzie at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, 846-3675, Ext. 0222.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Leticia Gutierrez can be reached at 749-4722. You may e-mail her at email@example.com