After-School Program at Casa Romero
The Casa Romero After-School Program at Holy Cross in Chicago has provided academic and social support for K-12 students for more than 20 years. The program has grown from humble and very limited beginnings into a crucial piece of Holy Cross’s youth program. The dedicated-use facility and long-term, committed staff provide academic support at each grade level. Equally vital for these students is the reality that the program’s staff becomes a nurturing second family to the community’s young people.
It is a year-round, free service for students that successfully embeds all 6 of the core areas for healthy youth development: academics, life skills, mentoring, recreation, service learning, and parent involvement. These key areas of personal development inform all curriculum, program, and staffing decisions.
A mainstay of the program is the belief that noticing and rewarding the positive things kids do, rather than emphasizing corrective action, brings out the best in them. This begins to build a healthier base in the short-term upon which the students and the staff can move forward for all achievement areas. This climate also begins the building of life skills and critical thinking models for each student’s long-term character development. Kids get attention for being a member of and contributing to the community. This practice is one of the keys to the immensely successful impact that Holy Cross’s youth programs have on the neighborhood’s young people.
There are several students in the program who joined when they entered elementary school and are now successfully finishing high school. Many of the program’s graduates are college students who now work within the parish to give back to the community that helped them.
This program uses a small group model where 10 to 12 students of a given grade level work daily with the same trained, college-student leader in a dedicated classroom in Holy Cross’s Casa Romero building. All groups spend approximately 2 of their 3 program hours each day on academics. Students are required to finish their homework before the group moves onto supplemental learning activities like writing, journaling, math exercises, reading groups, and computer time.
In addition to this academic time, students participate in an hour of life-skills instruction related to social skills and/or nutrition per week. As part of the life skills training for the students, group leaders conduct an employability assessment on all students 3 times a year. Leaders use these assessments to develop life skills activities and curriculum specifically tailored to each group’s needs.
The remaining program time is spent on recreation. During this time, students play sports and board games and create craft projects. The realities of the community impact the children’s abilities to socialize safely in groups outside of school. The safety of Casa Romero lets kids play and spend time together without fear.
Besides offering crucial services to young students, the After-School Program also provides its young group leaders with invaluable personal and professional experience. This experience prepares them for a host of social service and education careers and helps them grow into valued community leaders.
In addition to helping students, the After School Program also seeks to engage and empower parents. Many parents in the community realize they aren’t able to help their kids with homework because of language and literacy barriers. Almost half of the community’s population reports a 9th grade education or below, with many parents having completed only between 2nd-6th grade in their native country. This reality limits the amount of academic assistance many parents can give—which more often than not leads these parents to believe that they have nothing to offer their children regarding education.
The After School Program’s staff helps parents see past these limitations to discover all the unique things they can offer their children that no program ever could. Holy Cross’s staff values the parents’ role in the lives of their children by building their confidence and self-worth. Leaders work in partnership with parents to develop a holistic plan to help the students succeed and to keep the parents involved in the students’ growth. The target goal is for each student to stay in school and experience solid academic achievement—and an equally solid sense of self—while enjoying expanded support from their engaged parents.
From a parent’s perspective, Casa Romero and the After-School Program are a source of safety and consistent academic assistance. From the students’ perspective, the program provides a welcoming and reliable place for learning, socializing, and fun.
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