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This article is presented in partnership with CA Lottery.

Children who feel afraid cannot learn. For many, particularly those in San Francisco’s Title I schools, the school day isn’t long enough, leaving unending hours without direction or parental presence. Extra-curricular, after-school programs can fill in the gap for many, expanding the learning day and providing children with a safe space after the school bell rings.

A Place of Learning and Safety

Designed to operate as safe havens and managed by the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), ExCEL After School Programs integrate cultural activities with accelerated learning opportunities for kids. Health and social services are also made available for students and members of the school community, ensuring that the students get every kind of help they may need. Operating at over 90 local schools, ExCEL’s programs are geared toward all levels of learning from kindergarten through high school. Many even go so far as to provide nutritious dinners through the Supper Program.

Funded through a variety of grants, several ExCEL programmatic components work in harmony to provide full-spectrum learning support. The programs include:

  • Academic Tutorial Program – For younger students, English as a second language and other students, a strong focus is placed on reading skills and social studies. STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) are also studied extensively and a large emphasis is placed on computer skills. Through the ancillary ASSETS Programs, high schoolers are also provided with college preparedness and job readiness training.
  • Recreational Program – Recognizing the value of physical fitness and the understandable need to blow off steam after a full day of school, a wide range of physical activities are also provided for students. These include intramural sports, dance classes, aerobics and other forms of structured physical play.
  • Enrichment Program – Extra-curricular subjects offered include life skills, art, music and cooking classes.

ExCEL Kids Excel at School

Over 8,000 students currently attend and benefit from ExCEL after-school programs. School-compiled data indicates a dramatic increase in GPA levels and in CST and CAT-6 score improvement for middle school kids, particularly in the area of mathematics, who attend ExCEL programs consistently.

Just as importantly, dramatic percentages of elementary and middle school students who regularly go to after-school programs report feeling better about themselves as students and believing that their teachers and other school staff members care about them.

ExCEL Kids Excel at Life

These programs have provided opportunities for kids that far exceed the confines of the classroom. They include:

  • In recognition of National Poetry Month, two ExCEL kids, fourth grader Lauren Reyes and third grader Matheus Davila, both of Jenipero Serra Elementary School, got to travel to New York City to represent the Bay Area at the fourth annual America SCORES National Poetry Slam, held at the New York Stock Exchange.
  • Fifth graders at Guadelupe ASP, along with their teacher, Kent Schmitzlead, created a long distance running team – the Guadelupe Gallopers Cross Country Team – and shared it out with students at other schools.
  • For four years, ExCEL kids have gotten involved in the student-led Revolution in Art and Dance (RAD) program. This performing arts showcase brings students from the entire district together to show off their moves and perform everything from hip hop, reggae, salsa and Chinese lion dance.

Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.