Staying After School Makes Grade With Eager Learners : Education: Some schools stay open late, offering homework help and recreation, so that children don’t have to be home alone or on the streets. Students who participate usually improve their marks.


It’s 3 p.m. and classes are over for the day, but fifth-grader Keisha Cox is settling down for several more hours at McKinley Elementary School.

With no one at home until evening, the school is her refuge. “There are people here to help you with your homework, and after you’re done with your homework you can have a little fun,” she said.

Assisted by social service organizations and private business, schools around the country are staying open into the evening--some until 10 p.m. or later--to give children a haven in dangerous surroundings.


Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) wants the federal government to get involved in the so-called community school concept. At his initiative, the crime bill passed by the Senate late last year includes $400 million over four years for community schools. The bill is awaiting action by a joint House-Senate conference committee.

Under the proposal, grants would be awarded to states based on the number of poor children living there. To be eligible, communities must demonstrate significant problems of poverty and juvenile delinquency.

Bradley said keeping schools open is simply common sense.

“Home in urban America in many cases is a war zone,” he said before touring McKinley School in December. “If you’ve got a place that has books and want a place for kids to study and play a sport or talk to somebody about life, why not connect the two?”

There’s support for Bradley’s position in the Education Department.

“In many urban areas, the school is the only safe place to be,” Deputy Education Secretary Madeleine Kunin said recently. “The longer you keep the schools open, the more lives you save.”

The Clinton Administration’s proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would grant greater flexibility to use money for disadvantaged students. “It will allow people to use funds for extending school hours,” Kunin said.

At McKinley, adjacent to two public housing projects, 125 children are registered for the community school program and 45 to 60 participate on any given day. The community school is fully financed by the city of New Brunswick; there is no charge to students.


If not for the program, “some children would be at home alone, some children would be literally out in the streets, some would be in child care centers,” said David Blevins, the city’s community school coordinator.

The afternoon begins with an hour of homework help. Children then move to recreational activities such as dance, photography or open gym.

The program draws heavily on volunteers from nearby Rutgers University. Jon Dunham, a junior majoring in biology, is fulfilling a community service class requirement while at McKinley.

“I won’t give them the answers,” he said, as he moved around the room helping children with their homework. “You have to make them do the work.”

Principal Joyce McGee said she can see a difference in the grades of the children in the program.

Regina Sharpe, who oversees the McKinley community school, said changes extend beyond academics.


“I see children with more confidence in themselves. I’ve seen some children mature,” she said. “The children are learning that they can trust someone.”

Boston has had community schools since 1974. “In the very beginning, they were started to make better use of school buildings, which sat empty after school and on weekends,” said spokeswoman Sandy Holden. “Now, they offer a safe haven in the neighborhood and offer activities that kids can’t get in other places.”

Each of Boston’s 38 community centers--20 are situated in schools--is a separate nonprofit corporation. Each can set its own programming, although most have a mix of academic assistance and recreation.

In New York, community schools called Beacons were established in 1991 as havens for children and their families in neighborhoods hit the hardest by poverty, violence and substance abuse. The program has spread from 10 schools to 37.