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Changing Futures After School

LA's BEST students starting on an assignment.
LA's BEST at Sixty-Eighth Street Elementary School
A glance at LA's BEST through the eyes of their students.
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Fremont High School and South Region High School #2 may only be a few blocks away but they are worlds apart. The students at Fremont and dealing with no supplies and a rundown campus while SRHS #2 have new facilities and will be getting iPads next year.
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Rallying the Troops
The Salvation Army’s Youth and Community Center on South Central Avenue in Los Angeles is a spiritual sanctuary for those who are looking for guidance through Christ. Soldiers come together in the name of God to give back to the community through volunteerism, following their pastor, or “officer.”

By Mariah Haas

What if three hours a day could make a difference in a kid’s life?

When the bell rings and school is out, the after hours from 3 to 6 p.m., can be the most influential hours on young students, especially those children living in economically underprivileged areas.

LA’s BEST teamed up with the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1988 to create a free after school enrichment program for these students.

Ever since, LA’s BEST has been dedicated to helping shape the futures of the children that attend Los Angeles Elementary Schools.

There is one vision as to why LA’s BEST focuses on children in kindergarten to sixth grade because the need is there.

“These students are young, they are impressionable, and we hope we’re getting them before they are making choices that really take them down a negative path,” says LA’s BEST Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs Catherine Stringer.

“Children of this age need caring adults taking care of them. Our families work sometimes two or three jobs just to make ends meet. So, the need, not only in terms of a safety issue, but an attention issue is really important,” continued Stringer.

So, how does LA’s BEST work? LA’s BEST believes in three-and-a-half beats.

As soon as the children leave their last class and come into LA’s BEST, they get beat one, homework help.

Then, beat two, where kids do a cognitive enrichment activity. These are activities and lessons designed to be enjoyable, and feel very different from what they do during the regular school day, but at the same time still support their academic learning.

Next, beat three, which is recreation or what LA’s BEST likes to call it, “whatever, whatever.” This is because the elementary schools are able to customize the program based on student interests and staff capacity.

“We really let the children have a voice in what they do because we know this is how we’re going to get results,” says Stringer.

Lastly, the half-beat is nutrition and snack.

Through this idea of three-and-a-half beats and its customization, LA’s BEST students over the years have succeeded in many different aspects.

“Not only are the children having fun after school and learning after school, but they are better students when they wake up the next morning and come to their regular classes,” says Stringer.

A study done by the University of California, Los Angeles, has shown that LA’s BEST students have a stronger interest in education, and staying in school longer.

As a result, LA’s BEST children have higher GPA’s, better California Standardized Test scores, 20 percent reduced drop out rates, and they are 30 percent less likely to commit a juvenile crime compared to their peers not enrolled in LA’s BEST.

The benefits don’t just stop at elementary school though. LA’s BEST students have shown that they continue to excel throughout middle school.

Students who participate in LA’s BEST not only receive the academic benefits of the program, but there are also numerous activities and events planned out for them all year-round at LA’s BEST.

Every month is a specific theme, so the LA’s BEST site staff creates fun events all related to that month’s theme.

“For December, we do a princess ball, we do a winter happy holidays, where the kids do winter cookies, and things of that nature,” says Sixty-Eighth Street Elementary Site Coordinator Carlas Barlow.

LA’s BEST allows children to have fun, further their education, and even grow as individuals.

“I had several kids who were shy in the beginning, but over time they became more outgoing, and they loved themselves even more,” says Barlow.

LA’s BEST is more than an after school enrichment program, it’s a place where children can feel safe, enjoy themselves, and learn even when school is out.

“Children believe in themselves. They know that they have the thoughts, feelings and capacities to succeed, and what LA’s BEST does is caption them and build a reserve of that optimism and confidence that will carry them through, as they get older,” says Stringer.

At a young age, LA’s BEST students learn how to have a brighter future for themselves, as well as become the difference in the Los Angeles community, and it all started with the vision of one after school enrichment program, LA’s BEST.

LA's BEST students listening to instructions for their next assignment.

LA's BEST kindergarteners coloring their own castles.

An LA's BEST class working on an arts and crafts activity.