District 63 offers kids a little after-school TLC
Pamela Surber, director of the Total Learning Community for East Maine School School District 63, addresses her staff during a meeting at Apollo School on Aug. 22. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 7, 2012 6:04AM
PARK RIDGE — When the afternoon dismissal bell rings, not everyone in East Maine School District 63 runs for the exit doors.
For more than a decade now, students across the district — which serves portions of unincorporated Maine Township, Niles, Park Ridge, Morton Grove and Glenview — have been staying behind at the end of the school day for extra academic help, a game of basketball or a lesson in building birdhouses.
Extracurricular activities that are fun, healthy and educational are the specialty of District 63’s Total Learning Community, more commonly known as TLC, which is now beginning its 12th year.
What started out as a grant-funded initiative for at-risk children at four schools has grown into a multifaceted after-school, spring and summer program serving students in District 63’s seven schools, as well as first- through sixth-graders attending Culver School in Niles Elementary School District 71.
When children sign up for a TLC program at their home school they can choose between activities that range from sports and Spanish lessons to crafts, cooking and computers.
“There’s a great variety depending on the interest and the talents of the staff and volunteers,” said TLC Director Pam Surber.
After-school activities, offered until 5 p.m., vary from school to school but can include homework help, games, art, fitness, building with Legos, international dance and science.
“We try to give everybody a little of everything,” Surber said.
Sometimes activities are added based on the interest and skills of the individuals who volunteer to become part of the program. Children at Melzer School in Morton Grove, for example, once crafted foot stools out of wood because a volunteer happened to be a woodworker, while other participants have taught students how to knit and sew.
At Nelson School in Niles children learned basic gymnastic moves last year, while at Apollo School in unincorporated Maine Township a professional chef volunteered to teach the students about healthy eating and helped them make a grilled salmon salad.
“It was amazing how much the kids enjoyed it,” Surber said.
TLC also operates a teen center behind Apollo School for students in grades 5-8 at no charge, followed by basketball in the school’s gym when Apollo’s own TLC programs end for the day. The TLC basketball league, sponsored by Maine Township, is extremely popular, said Bill Gibson, a retired Gemini Junior High School teacher who runs the teen center and two open-gym programs offered by TLC at Gemini.
Gibson said TLC also benefits parents because it provides supervision and parental figures for their children after school.
“We have hardworking parents and they need a place for their children to go,” he said.
Surber’s goal for TLC is to provide children with additional academic support, social opportunities and language help for those struggling with English, all in a safe environment.
TLC also offers a spring-break session and a five-week, full-day summer program divided into an academic session in the morning and recreational pastimes in the afternoon. The summer program is open to children outside Districts 63 and 71.
TLC is funded largely through program fees, grants, fundraisers and community partnerships. Some funding is also provided by Maine Township and sometimes TLC is the recipient of private donations, Surber said.
The cost per child adds up to $16.66 per week, with bussing provided at about $1 per day, according the TLC website.
After so many years children who once enrolled as elementary-school students are now returning as high-school helpers.
“It’s really rewarding to see the families stay with us when the kids grow up,” Surber remarked.