Tuesday, November 13 , 2018, 7:43 pm | Fair 58º


Popularity of Santa Maria After-School Program Drawing More Students

Teens from Pioneer Valley High flock to nearby center for videogames, sports, snacks and even homework help

A basketball court, Wii game system and free nutritious snacks seem to be the trifecta that has drawn more students than ever to an after-school program offered by the Santa Maria Recreation & Parks Department.

The program offered at Edwards Community Center near Pioneer Valley High School is attracting more students than it has the past four years, which is how long the parks department has staffed the center a stone’s throw from the high school campus.

On average, more than 120 students are taking advantage of the program offered every school day from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at 809 Panther Drive, according to Barbara Wiley, recreation coordinator.

“We’re pleased to do it,” Wiley told Noozhawk. “We want to be able to let the program grow.”

The Edwards Community Center is a satellite location of the Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center, which, according to Wiley, sees a smaller number of students after school each day, likely because its 600 S. McClelland St. location isn’t as convenient for some students to get to.

At the Edwards Community Center, students have access to a basketball court, a Wii, movies, and free snacks courtesy of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. Soon, they'll have homework help from tutors.

The center is also conveniently located near a city bus stop and Pioneer, which has about 2,750 students in ninth through 12th grades.

More Santa Maria high school students than ever are taking advantage of the free after-school program at Edwards Community Center near Pioneer Valley High. The Santa Maria Recreation & Parks Department program offers free snacks as part of its activities. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)
More Santa Maria high school students than ever are taking advantage of the free after-school program at Edwards Community Center near Pioneer Valley High. The Santa Maria Recreation & Parks Department program offers free snacks as part of its activities. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Wiley said the parks department is hoping to get the word out to even more students, especially those who don’t have part-time jobs or aren't participating in sports or extracurricular activities.

“They’ve been in class all day, and they want to play basketball,” she said. “We also are trying to be a bridge. Teenagers are hungry. They’re still kids and they still need school.”

Pioneer seniors Pablo Gomez and Brandon Salazar took to the basketball court on a recent afternoon, both waiting along with sophomore Nick Chapman for a ride to pick them up after school.

They agreed the program offers a chance to hang out with friends after school hours, and it helps keep them and other high schoolers out of the streets and trouble.

“The people here are really nice,” Gomez said of the parks staff. “I really like playing basketball with everybody.”

Recreation technician Jason Davie said that before the center opened, the building sat empty and unused while students had to linger outside at the bus stop.

He’s hopeful the homework help will bring in even more students.

“We’re always going to try new things,” Davie said. “Right now this seems to be what kids want to do.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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