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Apartments Offer Children Free Tutoring

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don’t be surprised if this is the apartment ad of the future: “For rent--2br, 2ba, w/prking, crptg, new appls and tutoring.”

Under a rapidly growing nonprofit program based in Newport Beach, renters in several low- to moderate-priced apartment complexes across Southern California are finding the usual perks of tennis courts and swimming pools expanded to include free learning centers for their children.

The fifth Novaland Learning Center opened Saturday in La Palma, joining two centers in San Bernardino and one each in Garden Grove and Rialto. Three more centers are to open later in the year.

“The way we look at it is it’s an escape for kids, keeping them off the streets in one sense. But the overall goal is helping students succeed in school,” said Tamera De Gennaro, director of the just-opened Novaland Learning Center in the Nova La Palma Apartments on Valley View Street.

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The centers are underwritten by the Nova Community Foundation, which registered in April with the California secretary of state as a nonprofit organization. The foundation is housed at the offices of Steadfast Properties in Newport Beach, and all but one of the learning centers are in Steadfast complexes, said Nova Executive Director Kevin DeAllen. But centers in other complexes are planned as well.

He declined to identify the foundation’s initial financial backers, and said it hopes to attract a broad base of support.

“They don’t like to be named, but it’s through partnerships of property owners,” said DeAllen, a management consultant hired two years ago by the firms to establish the program, and who then signed on as the foundation’s full-time director.

“It started out as a social amenity at apartment complexes with diverse economic backgrounds,” DeAllen said. “One of the main purposes is enhancing the quality of life for students and their families, and helping them not only to get into college, but to excel.”

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On Saturday, half a dozen youths from the Nova La Palma complex were on hand when the center opened its doors. Most had helped convert the former community and weight rooms into the learning center, so there were few surprises.

But they were still eager to enjoy the fruits of their labor, despite the smell of fresh paint. The center consists of four rooms: an office, a gathering place for teenagers, a second gathering place for younger students and an open area for all students. Each area has desks or tables and two of the rooms hold computers loaded with educational software. A library is in the planning stages.

“I like the games--the foosball and the play station,” said Gwen Weste, 9, a fourth-grader at King Elementary School in the Cypress School District, who lives across the pool from the learning center. “All I have to do is just walk a couple of feet.”

Amanda Traslavina, 9, played on a computer nearby, using a math game program. The Swain Elementary School fourth-grader said her family has two computers at home, containing many of the same games. But the learning center offered something her apartment didn’t: a chance to mingle.

“I just moved in, so I’ll probably make some friends here,” she said.

Notably missing were parents. DeAllen said that has been a persistent problem at all the centers, but that organizers are trying to persuade parents to become more involved through volunteering to help children with homework and other projects.

The Nova La Palma complex houses 280 schoolchildren, 180 of them between 5 and 12, De Gennaro said.

“We’re not going to reach all of them,” said De Gennaro, 28, who signed on three months ago to set up the La Palma center.

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De Gennaro, who had been working in marketing for a software firm, said her new job fulfills her interest in working with youths .

“I did a camp for abused kids and foster kids, and I just couldn’t look at my job the same way,” De Gennaro said. “I wanted to do something that would affect people’s lives and make a difference.”

The centers are staffed 1 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. The weekday program blocks off 3:30 to 5 p.m. for homework, which De Gennaro said is designed to help students finish before their parents get home.

“That way they’ll be able to have quality time with their parents,” De Gennaro said. “So many parents work these days, they don’t have the time.”

At the Novaland Learning Center in Garden Grove’s Nova Bayport Apartments, students are tutored in reading and math, get help with their homework and manage to squeeze in crafts as well as occasional turns on the Nintendo game, coordinator Christina Brown said.

“We teach about different things, like geography, and we do character studies of famous people,” Brown said. “We do it all.”


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