Riverside center grows from 22 to 125 children

Lylah Purpus went to Riverside Educational Center two years ago seeking something to do after school.

Between playing soccer, beating drums and learning to cook through the school’s enrichment program, she received homework help and improved her grades in math.

“I get my homework done way faster than I would at home” with tutoring help from Riverside volunteers, the 12-year-old said.

Since reopening as an educational center at 552 W. Main St. in January 2006 with 22 kids, Riverside increased its budget more than tenfold and has grown to serve 125 kids, said Mary Gonzales, one of the center’s executive directors. Tutoring and enrichment services cost just $20 for a year.

The goal of the center is to help kids that “demonstrate both financial or academic need” to get good grades, according to the application form.

The center’s recently released annual report suggests this strategy is working. Four out of five students surveyed said they’re doing better in school because of the time they spend at Riverside.

Count 11-year-old Santos Carrasco among the 80 percent.

“I had trouble with language arts, but then they helped me, and I started raising my grades up,” Carrasco said.

He got a B-plus in his language arts class this year.

The annual report shows nearly half the students who attend programs at the center live in the Riverside neighborhood, and 81 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

If a child can’t pay the $20 fee, parents are asked to volunteer at the center. If other needs have to be met, the center works with local agencies to help families get assistance.

“If a child wants to join a baseball team and the family can’t afford the fee, they can apply for a scholarship” through the center, Gonzales said.

Hours spent by students with tutors and program directors increased from 1,474 last fall to 1,829 this spring. More than 55 volunteers coached kids during the 2008-09 school year, including AmeriCorps volunteer Anita Diaz, who said she enjoys watching the change in students. One high school senior told her he had no plans for college last fall. By spring, he changed his mind.

The kids’ enthusiasm for learning also has endeared Diaz to Riverside.

“The kids love to come, whether they have homework to do or not,” she said.

The center will remain open on Wednesdays and Fridays this summer. Students can participate in activities at the school or join in field trips to national parks, museums, rafting spots and other places. The center will sponsor its first overnight camping trip this summer.

Visit http://www.REC4kids.com for information.


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