Merced Union High School District gets grant to cover program for teens

After-school activities planned

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comMay 6, 2013 

The Merced Union High School District has received a $5.9 million grant from the state Department of Education to offer an after-school program for teenagers for the next five years.

The program will be offered at Merced and Golden Valley high schools in Merced and Atwater and Buhach Colony high schools in Atwater. A full-time project director, a part-time administrative assistant and four part-time intervention-security specialists will be hired from the grant.

Kelly Bentz, program administrator for the district's Child Welfare, Attendance and Safety department, said the goal is to provide a unique and innovative program with strategic partnerships and services previously unavailable.

Scott Scambray, district superintendent, said the program, which stands for After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens, will be worthwhile. ASSETS will help the district with its goal of getting students involved in extracurricular activities.

The program will expand Livingston High School's Environmental Science Academy to an after-school club for the four participating high schools. It will expand the Atwater High School Hip-Hop Club and augment instruction in playing and writing music, along with audio-visual digital recording at all campuses.

Bentz said ASSETS will provide academic support and safe, constructive alternatives for high school students. They will be assisted in passing the high school exit exam and get help with other state tests.

"Each program must consist of three elements: academic assistance, educational enrichment and family literacy services," Bentz said.

About 600 students a day will be served for three hours a day at the four high schools. At least half of the students are expected to use the program more than three days a week, Bentz said.

Partners named

Thirteen partners have been identified. They include the California Teaching Fellows Foundation for mentoring efforts, Serve Our Youth for staff development, United Methodist Church of Merced for vocal technique and music theory training, Hope for Youth to work with at-risk students, UC Merced's Wilderness Educational Center and Yosemite National Park, the Merced County Office of Education's METV studio to produce student-generated digital products, the MCOE migrant education program, United Way of Merced County, the Merced Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Task Force, Atwater Community Advocate United for Safe Environments, California State University, Stanislaus, and UC Merced.

Bentz said stipends are available to district teachers to assist with academic tutoring.

Other program plans are to provide homework assistance, a Student Leadership Council, college preparation, job skills and mentoring programs, gang prevention counseling, community service and service learning projects, family literacy, GED support and second-language acquisition for parents.

Busing to be provided

Busing to and from activities throughout the district will be provided.

The district first applied for the grant in late fall 2011 but was not funded. With help from a consulting firm, the application was improved and endorsed by state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and the Merced, Atwater and Livingston city councils. The grant was resubmitted in December for the 2013-2014 school year.

Janel Mouillesseaux, Livingston High School science teacher, is excited about reinstating the Environmental Science Academy, which was started more than a decade ago.

"Now that funding is available once again, we will be able to partner with Yosemite National Park and UC Merced to give students the experience of a lifetime," Mouillesseaux said.

Students will take part in an after-school extracurricular Environmental Club during the school year. During the summer they will spend at least a week camping in Yosemite, learning about the ecology, geology, biology and history of the park and the Sierra Nevada. Research projects are planned.

"Students not only learn to appreciate the wilderness, but they learn valuable leadership skills and build their self-confidence," Mouillesseaux said. "Students are forever changed by their time in ESA, and I'm so glad our district will once again be able to provide this wonderful opportunity for students."

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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