With after-school program, Park City students are shining
For Rebeca Gonzalez, the 10 hours a week she spends at McPolin Elementary School is like stepping back in time and peering into a mirror.
Gonzalez grew up in Park City and attended school here from kindergarten through 12th grade. She knows what it’s like to be a Hispanic student in the Park City School District, and she understands how important it is for the underserved students here to get a little bit of extra help.
That’s why Gonzalez is so eager to participate in the district’s new after-school program for elementary students.
"It’s been amazing to see, because I would have benefitted from this," said Gonzalez, the program’s McPolin site coordinator. "But now I see this new generation of kids and I’m so hopeful. I see a lot of bright futures for all of them, and I think they just have so much potential — and in this program, we’re bringing that potential out."
The district, with the help of Holy Cross Ministries, has had some form of after-school programs for its four elementary schools for a handful of years. But this year, the Park City Education Foundation provided money for the district to hire someone to coordinate the programs and expand their influence.
John Hall is the person tasked with overseeing the effort. He is the district’s newly appointed director of after-school and summer-school programming. He said the after-school programs are making a difference in a way they never have before.
"The major difference between what was happening before and what’s happening now is we have classes installed in the program that really focus on developing cognitive skills with kids," he said. "We want to teach them the learning strategies they need to be successful no matter what subject area they’re studying.
"And we don’t focus so much on getting the right answer, but we focus on the strategies kids are employing," he added. "Are they learning perseverance, are they keeping at it? We look for programs that will develop that particular trait in kids."
Leo Nieto, who works with Holy Cross Ministries, has been involved in after-school programs since 2011. He said bringing the efforts of all four elementary schools under one umbrella has been encouraging. Student attendance has grown — there are about 220 students who attend the four-times-a-week programs — and district staff has been more eager to participate.
"Now that John is on board, I think the biggest benefit is we have the buy-in from everybody at the schools," he said. "You have the buy-in from people in even the kitchen staff, all the way to the teachers and principals. Everyone wanted the program to get going but didn’t have the time to make it happen. So now it’s a partnership where everybody is putting something in."
The programs give the students academic help, focusing on developing stronger language, literacy and science skills, but they also get to go on field trips and participate in other activities that build the social community. The goal is to, ultimately, help close the achievement gap that plagues the district.
"I think this is extremely important," he said. "Kids who may not have opportunities to fully engage or participate in lesson activities during the school day, they have plenty of opportunities in this program. The light is fully focused on them, and they’re fully engaged and participating."
Gonzalez said that giving students role models to look up to is another key component. It shows the students what they can accomplish if they focus on school and earn an education.
"They benefit so much from that," she said. "We get a lot of volunteers, and that is the key. I remember what really inspired me was when people would come into my classroom and tell us how they went from nothing to something or how they overcame challenges. That really motivated me, so when I see those kids, I see the same thing."
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The Park City Board of Education is on track to place a bond on the ballot this fall to improve district facilities. The top priorities would be to put ninth grade in the high school, eighth grade in the middle school and to augment preschool offerings by expanding elementary schools.