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A North Richmond after school program provides a safe haven for elementary students to learn and grow

on October 13, 2014

“If you can hear me clap once, if you can hear me clap twice, if you can hear me clap three times.” Immediately, the boys and girls who sat around the large worktable quieted down and listened to their teachers with bright smiles and their undivided attention.

The Little Ladies and Little Gents Program serves as a hidden gem in the heart of North Richmond, an area that is often overlooked and commonly referenced as high crime and low income.

This free program is available three days per week at the Contra Costa County Family Service Center. It provides a safe haven for boys and girls in the fourth, fifth and sixth grade to learn and develop in the comforts of their own community.

“When I was growing up we didn’t have to worry about oh it’s about to be a drive by or is somebody going to come shooting, so my parents didn’t have a problem with me going outside to play,” Jakeia Dunn, 26, said. “I can’t do that with my kids.”

Dunn serves as one of the facilitators for the program. Also, as a Richmond native and single mother of two, she is able to see first hand the impact that after school programs like this have on students in the community.

Denise Carey, the program coordinator, explained that students miss fewer days at school because of their policy requiring you attend school to participate in the program. Also, she said by offering support in a structured environment there is an increase in homework completion, greater participation in class and a higher sense of self-esteem among the students.

“I have learned what respect means,” Rashauntanae Keels, a sixth-grader in the program, said. “Respect is something that you give that shows your appreciation.”

The goal of the program is for all of its students to complete the year having learned the skills necessary to be the “best” and “ultimate” student they can be.

Carey said that she hopes students leave the program with a feeling of belonging, positive peer relationships, and a greater school and community connection.

Time is designated for homework, activity sheets, group readings, critical thinking questions, science activities and field trips. Students also receive a free snack provided by the school district.

After completing the yearlong program, each student is recognized at a closing graduation ceremony as becoming a Little Lady and Little Gent. The hope is that they walk away with the characteristics and tools needed for a successful future.

“We aren’t just an after school program we are a family,” said Dunn. “Providing a safe environment for kids to learn and engage with other kids is the first step to keeping kids out of the streets.”

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Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.

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