How to Start An After School Program

Centro Neuva Creacion Pic

Centro Nueva Creacion kids visit a mural exhibition

Some congregations, intent on promoting resilience in children, are starting after school programs in partnership with local schools. The need is tremendous. In low-income communities, especially, many working parents cannot be home when school lets out, and expensive child care is out of the question.  An after school program can plug the gap.

Centro Nueva Creacion, a small non-profit in North Philadelphia, provides a model for how to do it. Started over twenty years ago by Iglesia Luterana Nueva Creacion, a small bi-lingual Lutheran church in a “tough” neighborhood, the Centro operates an afterschool program from 3p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, right on school grounds.

The Centro serves about thirty Latino youth, and the waiting list is long. Recently I visited the program at William Cramp Elementary School, located in a section of town called “The Badlands” due to crime and drug problems.   Maribel Lozado Arzuaga, the Director, told me they decided to call their program “The Goodlands” because it uses the arts—yoga, painting, gardening, poetry and photography—to help children see their surroundings in a more positive, hopeful light.

Once a week, when photography is taught, children go outside to take pictures of good things they see in their neighborhood—signs of hope. These children are learning to express themselves through art, but also how to dream of a better future.

When kids arrive, they are shepherded into the cafeteria to share a snack, provided through school funding. A little later, everyone heads to the gym to work off some energy after spending the day in the classroom. Next they settle down for a time of structured learning, usually an art or craft project focused on a theme. The Centro staff call this Project-Based Learning, and it’s key to their approach. On the day I visited, the older elementary group was making a self-watering flowerpot from a discarded two-liter plastic soda bottle. The theme: Reduce, reuse, recycle and repurpose. For those who needed it, volunteers offered help with homework.


  1. Create a time and place for children to be active and “blow off steam.” Ask the school to provide gym space if possible.
  2. Offer a nutritious snack, which for some children may fill an important nutrition gap in the day.
  3. Center learning around projects involving arts, craft or technology.
  4. Recruit volunteers to provide homework help.
  5. Above all, offer plenty of love. A stable, emotionally warm environment may be even more important than any formal educational support you provide.

Photo:  Mural Arts Education,


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