Experienced partner makes a difference

When Garcia signed up for the nine-month training program, she was a full-time mom who did not speak English. By the time she completed the program, she had gained enough confidence to leave an abusive relationship, get a job as a teacher’s aide and learn English.

Meanwhile, her 10-year-old daughter, Rosa, enrolled in an after-school tutoring program. Within months, her grades had improved. And Hector Uriostegui, 18, Garcia’s oldest son, decided to volunteer at the school as well.

Creating a community school from scratch

Marquette’s community school program last year served about 350 children and 100 adults, offering about 25 activities including homework help, dance classes, family nights and courses in English as a Second Language.

Even so, the program has been beset by a variety of problems, says Rios, resource coordinator for community school programs. “It’s gotten stuck in a hole.” The local school council and the School Board locked horns over principal selection. Latino and African-American parents have sometimes disagreed over the program’s direction. And now funding has been cut.

New law gives boost to community schools

No Child Left Behind earmarks $1 billion for the national program called 21st Century Community Learning Centers, an effort to expand after-school academic programs.

About $325 million of that amount will go directly to states to be distributed to school districts. Illinois is slated to receive an additional $12.5 million this year, and may get more in the future. This year, Chicago Public Schools anticipates $6.2 million in 21st Century funding.

Going home with

The 18 1st-graders in attendance settle into chairs they’ve pulled into the classroom library. Barry takes a seat on a desk, facing them, and holds up “The Gingerbread Baby.”

Being chosen for “read aloud” in Room 104 at Jungman Elementary School is a little like winning a Pulitzer Prize: A book’s got to be good to get it, and getting it brings an avalanche of readers. Barry chose “The Gingerbread Baby” for its challenging vocabulary, masterful illustrations and well-told story. She’s sure it will be a hit.