There’s No “Pay-To-Play” at After-School All-Stars

Kids who don’t have the resources for teams or electives get their own program.

Kenya Woodard | Times Correspondent

TAMPA – Most students bolt for the door when the last bell of the school day rings. But for dozens of students at Memorial Middle School, the end of the regular school day is the beginning of an extended stay on campus. 

ASAS Tampa Bay is one of 18 chapters of After-School All­-Stars, a nonprofit that provides at-risk students with free, comprehensive programs like academic support and sports and enrich­ment activities. 

A large number of students at Memorial are enrolled in inten­sive math and reading classes, leaving little room in their sched­ules for elective courses such as art or music. Many do not have the money for pay-to-play sports programs or have transportation to get to practices.

So when Assistant Principal Tehia Robinson learned about After-School All-Stars, she knew it would be just the solution Memorial needed to provide sports and enrichment programming to its students.

Three months later, students have visited the University of Tampa to meet the lacrosse team, taken photography and cooking courses, and played flag football, volleyball, and other activities.

The program will extend into the summer even. A partner­ship with the city of Tampa will shift After-School All-Stars into a six-week, full-day pro­gram during the summer that will operate in several locations throughout the city.

Robinson said so far, it’s proven to be extremely popular. “Now we have a chance to give those opportunities after school that they miss because of their schedules,” she said. “Our kids so deserve it!”

According to its website, After­-School All-Stars operates in schools where 86%  per­cent of the students quality for free or reduced lunch. Across the US, more than 700 schools and other community sites host ASAS programs.

Rooted in the Inner City Games Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit founded in 1992 and com­missioned by actor and for­mer California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the goal of After-School All-Stars is to help students prepare for high school and beyond.

“The data shows that (middle schoolers) are one of the neediest groups,” said Michael Brown, executive director of the Tampa Bay chapter. “The kids are on a slippery slope!”

About 100 Memorial students are registered in the program. That number is expected to grow when the program goes into a “full launch” at the start of the new school year.   

Each day begins with students meeting in the cafeteria to eat a hot meal. 

“For most of these kids, this will be their dinner, said Brown. After eating, it’s time to do homework or get tutoring from teachers hired by After-School All-Stars.   

For Emilio Diaz, 13, this is his favorite part of the program. “At home, I don’t really get a chance to do homework” he said.

“Memorial started the program just a few months ago, but there’s a noticeable change in the students’ academic performances,” said sci­ence teacher Gail Ragsdale. “They’re seeing they have someone who can help,” she said. “They’re proud and take owner ship of what they’re doing. I see so much possibility here.”

Once homework is done, stu­dents can choose from a number of sports and wellness or enrich­ment activities in which to par­ticipate. One recent day, the choices were basketball, jewelry-making, or Girl Scouts. 

But for some students, After­-School All-Stars is about more than getting help with multipli­cation tables or shooting hoops in the gym. The teachers and counselors also provide students with skills to help improve their behavior, Brown said.   

Sixth-grader Jamaris Hernan­dez, 11, said she’s started behav­ing better in school since joining After-School All-Stars. “I like that when I’m mad, they help calm me down,” she said. “They’ll talk to me and keep me away from the person who upsets me.”

Quentin Dewberry, 14, said he’s looking forward to spending his summer with After-School All-Stars. “I like coming out here,” he said. “It’s a good experience?’   

To learn more about After­-School All-Stars, visit www.after­   

Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected].