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STARS program helps kids achieve success in Folsom schools

By: Laura Newell, Telegraph staff writer
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FOLSOM, CA - Folsom STARS is an after-school enrichment program for students, offered Monday through Friday, and is continually growing despite financial struggles. “STARS is a research-based program intended to provide children who are at-risk of not succeeding with the tools they need to become successful,” said Salwa Kasabian, STARS community outreach. “The children are provided each day with a healthy snack, homework and tutoring help, a recreational activity at least twice a week and with other enrichment activities.” After launching in the middle of the 2009-2010 school year, the maximum number of students that can be involved in the Folsom STARS program is 40 due to cost availability, Kasabian said. “The program benefits students by coming alongside them and giving them tools to succeed in school, recreational activities and a healthy snack for their physical well being, and enrichment activities such as investing in the school garden, field trips to various city facilities and exposure to the arts that they would not otherwise have,” Kasabian said. “The program helps teachers by allowing them to work with our STARS coordinators to invest in these children academically outside of school hours. We find that behavioral issues are lessened as a result of children being engaged and equipped for school as well.” She said Folsom STARS also benefits parents by providing them with a safe place for their children after school. While the program has been helpful for the community, it is facing financial issues to stay active. “Unlike the school sites in Rancho Cordova, Theodore Judah Elementary School and Blanche Sprentz Elementary School do not qualify for federal grants for their STARS program,” Kasabian said. ”Therefore, our greatest challenge has been in raising money to keep the program going, and also to expand the program to include more children.” She said the bulk of the cost of the program is the salaries of the two coordinators. “If we had more funds available to the program, we could grow the program to encompass more children,” she said. Still, she said the Folsom community has stepped up to help financially. “During the 2010-2011 school year, STARS was only able to accommodate 20 children from Theodore Judah Elementary School, as we only had funding for one STARS coordinator,” she said. “With the start of the 2011-2012 school year, we received grant monies from Kaiser Permanente and Micron, as well as a large donation from Oak Hills Church, and we were able to double the program to 40 children.” Because of the grant, she said they were also able to start offering the program to children at Blanche Sprentz Elementary School. “Each day the STARS children at Blanche meet their coordinator at their school site, and walk the 0.9 miles over to Theodore Judah to participate in the program together with the Judah children,” Kasabian said. “Were it not for Micron, Kaiser, Oak Hills Church, and other donors like Kiwanis Club of Folsom Lake, and organizations and individuals who have donated generously to the program, we could not offer this program to these children who need it.” Micron has also provided the Folsom STARS program with snacks and lunch sacks filled with school supplies. The Twin Lakes Food Bank has also partnered with this healthy snack program. Kasabian said for extra curricular activities, Deidre Hawkins, with Hawkins School of Performing Arts in Folsom, has also supported STARS by providing children with free ballet lessons and the opportunity to attend dance performances. The City of Folsom allows these children to take field trips to many city facilities including the aquatic center, the zoo and the Senior Arts Center and the Community Center where they learn about nutrition and cooking. “We appreciate the opportunity to engage the youth of our community in the wonderful recreational amenities the city has to offer,” said Evert Palmer, Folsom City Manager. ”Our children are the underpinnings of Folsom’s future, and providing these types of positive experiences for them further builds the community we all embrace in the Folsom of today and wish to grow and enhance in the Folsom of tomorrow.” Still, Kasabian said the community can help the program continue to grow. “We can always use more volunteers to help with the homework and tutoring portion of the program, to give children more individualized attention,” she said. ”We would love to be able to expand this program to any and all children who may need it. So financial help really is the greatest need we have.” All donations are tax deductible and donations received go directly toward helping these STARS children. “I believe that the STARS program is an effective tool for breaking the cycle of poverty and helplessness that many children in our community are experiencing,” Kasabian said. ”As this program continues to grow, I trust that we will see the face of our community transformed as we help to move children and their families from a place of need to a place of productivity.” For more information or to make a donation, e-mail Kasabian at elswaify@yahoo.com.