By the numbers

To close in on after-school goal, de Blasio turns to religious schools and community centers

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

Updated — After creating 31,000 new seats in middle-school after-school programs this school year, Mayor Bill de Blasio is looking beyond public schools to create and fill the remaining 3,000 seats the city needs to reach its goal for the end of the school year.

The city has nearly doubled the number of seats in after-school programs in middle schools this year, creating 31,000 of the 34,000 new seats that de Blasio’s $145-million plan called for, city officials confirmed Wednesday. The city will come closer to reaching its goal come March, when 49 religious schools and community-based organizations open roughly 2,500 more seats thanks to $8 million in new after-school grants.

Turning to community-based organizations and private schools to support the after-school expansion takes a page out of the plan for de Blasio’s other signature education initiative, expanding full-day pre-kindergarten. But whereas those organizations made up the bulk of the city’s new pre-K offerings in September, city officials said through the fall that non-public school programs wouldn’t be added to the mix until later in the school year.

Eight of the new programs will open at Catholic schools, five at yeshivas, and three at Islamic middle schools. A Greek Orthodox school and a Seventh Day Adventist school will also open programs. Also receiving grants are the New York Tibetan Service Center, which primarily serves immigrants from Tibetan, Himalayan, and southeast Asian communities; Sunnyside Community Services, which will provide services to 50 special-needs students; and African Refuge, which will cater programs to the Liberian community living on the Staten Island’s North Shore.

“This grant for us was like being in a desert and finally getting a drink of water,” said Tsering Diki, executive director of the Tibetan Service Center.

On Wednesday, the city also released enrollment figures showing that at the 562 middle schools offering programs this year, 91,204 students had signed up for 75,704 available seats. That’s a typical ratio for after-school programs serving middle schoolers, since not every student shows up every day, but also shows that concerns about middle-schoolers rejecting the new after-school programs were unfounded.

“When running an after-school program, you’re always going to have a kid who can’t make it on certain day,” said Nora Niedzielski-Eichner, executive director of the New York State Afterschool Network, an advocacy group.

All of the programs are required to hit a 75 percent “rate of participation” by the end of the year. City officials said they did not plan to release participation data until then.

City officials emphasized that they’ve reached 89 percent of their two-year target, which is to have 84,000 after-school seats by the end of the 2015-16 school year.

Correction: An earlier version of this story did not acknowledge that city officials said in the fall that non-public school programs would be invited to participate later in the school year, and implied that the city’s goal for new seats was for the beginning of the school year, rather than the end.

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.