New high school program offers tutoring, homework help and enrichment after regular hours

More than 1,800 high school students are taking advantage of a new after-school program at five local campuses, giving them tutorial help with academic subjects and a chance for some exercise.

There are fun things, too, along with a snack.

This is the essence of the Merced Union High School District’s ASSETS program, which is offered at Merced, Golden Valley, Atwater, Buhach Colony and Yosemite high schools.

ASSETS stands for After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens and is funded by federal money disbursed through the state Department of Education. More students are becoming aware of the program through word-of-mouth, although other avenues are used to promote it.

Kelly Bentz, ASSETS’ project director and a psychologist, said about one-fifth of the district’s students are involved in the after-school program. The goal is to attract as many students as possible, and she’s encouraged with the reception the program has received during its first semester.

Bentz said that when she did a walk-through of program activities last fall, she saw that students were enjoying what they were doing.

“The kids loved it,” Bentz said. “It was so wonderful to see all those things. What would they be doing if they weren’t here? We’re serving a lot more kids now and one of the biggest challenges has been having facilities available, and so far the schools have been cooperative.”

Jennifer Trindade, coordinator for ASSETS, said the program has come a long way since it began. Programs have been added at each school, with fitness and nutrition components needed more than was originally anticipated.

Participation levels at individual schools were: Merced High, 783; Golden Valley, 589; Buhach Colony, 242; Atwater High, 122, and 73 at Yosemite High School. Each of the schools gets a core grant of $250,000 per year for a five-year period; $20,000 more is earmarked for a family literacy project, and $25,000 to provide students with transportation home.

Attendance in the program isn’t mandatory but is encouraged. The school district is reimbursed by the state based on the number of students served.

Debbie Glass, Merced Adult School principal, said it will offer English as a second language, GED preparation and basic computer classes two nights a week at the five schools. She is hoping for at least 10 adult participants at each site.

Bentz said the program is looking at providing dinner for ASSETS students, possibly assisted by culinary arts students.

“Tutoring has been the biggest hit,” Trindade said. “It’s not required, but most kids take advantage of tutoring. After they do their homework, then they can do the extra little things. Normally the tutorials are full; they always are really busy.”

ASSETS activities offered or contemplated include an Environmental Science Academy, videography, survival skills, sports conditioning, fitness and nutrition, recycling-renewable energy, theater, cooking with friends, student leadership, an art club, marketing, broadcasting, a book club and photography.

Bentz said ASSETS leaders want the program to be relevant to students so they are motivated to contribute. A student leadership team at each school helps get enrichment groups organized.

Program goals are to improve student performance on high school exit exams and state testing, improve students’ regular day attendance, boost graduation rates and decrease dropout rates.

The district is working with the California Teaching Fellows Foundation to provide tutoring by college and university students for high school students.