After-school program puts emphasis on science, literacy

On a recent afternoon— before this week’s recent cold snap— eight elementary school students scoured the yard behind the Little House on East Cottage Street to collect leaves, seeds, dirt and insects. They brought their findings back to the College Bound Dorchester Out of School Time classroom and analyzed the dirt under a microscope to find smaller insects hiding in the terrain.

“To see animals move around is very engaging to them,” said Hermando Romero, the program’s manager. “Science in the early years has a big impact on children. Putting them in touch with nature and their environments really enriches their education and life experience.”

College Bound Dorchester hosts about 35 kids for the afternoon every school day and for a full day during vacations. Four staffers run programming about literacy, science, and peer interactions for the students, 90 percent of whom are eligible for subsidized childcare.

College Bound Dorchester, formerly known as Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses, has been a fixture in the neighborhood since 1965. The Out of School Time program is funded by state and a $15,000 grant from the Boston Scientific Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Natick-based medical device company, which helps pay the salaries of science teachers.

State funding for after school and out-of-school programs was cut in half from nearly $4 million in Fiscal Year 2009 to $2 million in 2010 and 2011.

Students often come to College Bound Dorchester because they are struggling with learning or behavior problems in school and at home. Some students are referred to College Bound’s program because their families went of the welfare rolls, and authorities want to keep the kids on track. A few are referred by local homeless shelters.

“We’ll have access into student records, so we’ll be able to communicate with the teachers to find ways to support child’s learning,” said Susan MacDonald, director of center-based after school programs. “Our goal is that students will receive an increased enjoyment of school, not just the program.”
The program’s instructors don’t work alone: They try and get parents, community members, and teachers involved in helping the students improve, MacDonald said.

“A lot of child reading levels are not where they should be,” she said. “We have instructors who are very intentional in what they do. We know we can’t do all this alone, because there are so many barriers that are in the way. We form partnerships, and we get the parents involved.”