October 21, 2021 by HCDE-Texas
Students slowly trickle into the library at Humble Middle School on a Friday afternoon, curious to see what the afternoon’s activities are. They are met by Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids (CASE for Kids) Director Lisa Caruthers, Ph.D., who will lead them in a series of interactive exercises.
Caruthers, who oversees Harris County Department of Education’s afterschool division, CASE for Kids, volunteered to spend an afternoon with students at the Title I school while the school and CASE work to get the afterschool program running at full capacity.
The challenge, Caruthers explains, lies in hiring afterschool program specialists to facilitate the activities in the post-pandemic era.
“Because we are Harris County Department of Education, people think we only run school day programs,” says Caruthers. “People don’t know HCDE has an afterschool program, but we still have about 15 more afterschool program specialist jobs available, and we pay $15 an hour, which is higher than the standard in the field.”
Afterschool program specialists work 15 hours a week in afterschool programs across Harris County.
As the recipient of a $1.5 million Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Center grant from the Texas Education Agency, HCDE is tasked with facilitating funds and afterschool curriculum to campuses who were co-applicants to the grant. Ten campuses from various Harris County school districts will benefit from the grant, which will allow the program to continue at the schools for the next five years.
The grant will be awarded to HCDE and its partners over the course of the five years, with HCDE receiving $300,000 annually. An estimated 1,000 students will be served by the program during the school year.
“This grant is an evolution for us because we are hiring the staff ourselves,” said CASE for Kids Assistant Director Jesselyn Arceneaux. “With this grant, we get to build on our afterschool expertise by designing cool afterschool activities and projects. We’re excited to bring the after-school specialists on and load them up with training.”
According to the nonprofit organization Afterschool Alliance, most juvenile crimes occur between the hours of 3-6 p.m. when children are left home alone after school.
“Afterschool programs are critical for keeping kids safe and engaged while families work. They offer fun, structured, engaging play through project-based learning,” says Caruthers.
Afterschool programs also provide an opportunity for students to improve academic skills, explore new hobbies, engage with positive role models, and exercise creativity.
“These programs are important because they provide each child with the balance of having an enriching environment where they can pursue their hobbies and interests and get a chance to socialize and reconnect with their peers.”
Humble Middle School is one of the sites served through the grant. Abbi Hershey, a paraeducator at the school who also serves as the site’s CASE Quality Assurance Liaison, says that the opportunity to be involved after school with students has been rewarding.
“It’s a lot of fun and gives you a chance to get to know the students in your community and be involved directly with them and with their learning. It gives you a chance to give back to your community in such a huge way. The hours are great if you’re a college student.”
Hershey facilitated the program during Caruthers’ visit. She says the program has already become popular with students, even though it has only been in effect at the school since September.
“The kids are now reaching out to their friends and getting them to join the afterschool program,” says Hershey. “They are here because they want to be, not because they have to be.”
To view employment opportunities with CASE for Kids and apply, visit hcdetexas.tedk12.com/hire.