Austin's Maplewood Elementary Relies on Parents as Partners for Afterschool

by Jubilee Guequierre
Published in SEDL Letter Volume XX, Number 2, August 2008, Afterschool, Family, and Community

The small portable classroom at Maplewood Elementary resounds with giggles and shrieks as a few dozen students prepare to perform in the school’s annual Cinco De Mayo celebration. The girls and boys, students in Monica Alvizo’s afterschool class, have spent one afternoon a week all semester learning the dance steps of Ballet Folklorico, a traditional form of Mexican dance. Helping the girls with their blue eye shadow and long yarn braids is Mrs. Alvizo, an office clerk at the school whose son is in the fourth grade there. The room is full of parents—tying up skirts, applying bright lipstick, and straightening the pantyhose of wiggly kindergartners. When the curtain rises on the small cafeteria stage, the parents join the rest of the school to watch the children stomp and spin across the stage like vibrant flowers to the familiar beat of “La Negra.”

Photo of children dancing ballet.
Maplewood afterschool students get ready for their Ballet Folklorico performance.

Maplewood is a small, diverse, urban elementary school, serving an eclectic community in east Austin. Community members play a large role at Maplewood: local musicians volunteer to play classical piano during lunchtime, neighbors help with school gardens, and perhaps most important, parents and community groups supply the long-running afterschool program with talented and enthusiastic teachers, often taking time off work to participate.

Mrs. Alvizo has been teaching afterschool classes at Maplewood for 7 years. The steps she teaches the children are the traditional routines she learned as a high school student. “I’m not a professional dancer, but I enjoy doing this because the children motivate me and they keep me inspired. Every year at the beginning of the school year, students approach me in the hallways or come by the office to ask when I will teach the Ballet Folklorico class.”

The Maplewood afterschool program has been running for 17 years, most recently with primary funding from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which will end after the 2008-09 school year. This past school year, the program enrolled 178 students.

Rosemary Salazar, the program’s director, has been involved from the very beginning. “A long time ago when I approached parents to teach—we have so many parents with expertise they can share—they were hesitant because they have never taught or didn’t know how to ‘behavior manage’ the students and felt a little intimidated. I convinced a few parents to sit in with teachers instructing an afterschool class and before you know it, they were saying things like “I can do this” or “If the class can be under 12 students, I can teach a class,” or “If I can have the younger/older kids, I can teach a class.”

Mrs. Salazar works hard to involve parents in other ways. In addition to the extensive classes offered to the students, Maplewood offers adult education classes such as yoga, knitting, and ESL. During “Fit Family Fun Night,” parents can earn credits for free babysitting during “Parent’s Night Out.”

The variety of programs and opportunities for parent involvement are important in a school with such a diverse mix of families and backgrounds. Parents whose work schedules conflict with PTA meetings or who experience language barriers are given many alternate ways to become involved. Whether they’re participating in quilting, ukulele, robotics, mural painting, soccer, or traditional Mexican dance, the students and the community that surrounds them are expanding their horizons and adding to their educational experience— after the school bell rings.

Jubilee Guequierre is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Austin, Texas.

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