Gisela Palma has seen the changes in her son Jesùs, a fifth-grader at Hayes Elementary School, in just a semester. She’s seen the shy student develop confidence from an after-school program and a real desire to learn more about the world around him.
“My son, Jesùs, now has better communication with other kids,” Palma said recently. “Before Christmas, he was part of a school musical program. Every day he’d come home and practice singing and dancing because he wanted to do his best. I really appreciate that we have this kind of program and people who are helping the school.”
A native of Mexico now living in Birmingham, Ala., Palma and her husband enrolled Jesùs and his younger sister at the start of the school year in the Center for a New Generation, an enrichment program offered at Hayes. Former U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice, a Birmingham native and advisor to the Regions Bank board of directors, originally co-founded the Center in California. The Boys & Girls Club of America is now a nationwide partner, and the newest Center for a New Generation is the first in the state of Alabama.
When the final school bell tolls at 3:45 every afternoon, close to 100 students happily file into the lunch room. Situated at tables based on class grades, the students begin to complete homework assignments while schoolteachers and tutors stand nearby to answer any questions. The biggest surprise? The smiles on the faces of the students – this is homework, after all – as they finish their assignments.
In less than an hour, the students are finished with classwork and ready for enrichment. A violinist instructs in one room, a dance teacher in another. Across the hall, a karate instructor teaches self-discipline. A few doors away, students learn how to play a trombone and clarinet. There also are computer, language, math and drama classes in other rooms. The volunteer instructors come from across the city of Birmingham. Also on hand are students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Miles College.
The A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club of Birmingham partnered with Hayes, Birmingham City Schools and Regions Bank to bring the Center for a New Generation to the school.
Hayes Principal Cedric Tatum said he gets asked daily by parents about expansion of the program. Others thank him for what the Center for New Generation offers – not only for the students but for parents, now free to work later in the day.
“We started the Center for a New Generation in August with the idea of offering students an extended learning opportunity in subjects like the arts, foreign languages, mathematics and science,” Tatum said. “We wanted to make sure we could bring everyone in, provide the space and provide programs that had real value. We had to collaborate a lot. None of this was done in isolation. In fact, this takes a lot of partners.”
“Dr. Condoleezza Rice brought us this wonderful initiative, and it’s one that falls squarely within the mission of the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club,” said Frank Adams, President and CEO of the organization. “Many young people in our communities don’t have the enrichment opportunities that are often available elsewhere. By partnering with the school system, we can be more impactful in the lives of Birmingham City School System students and their parents. Students participating in the CNG program automatically become members of the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club.
“Working with Regions, which has been a wonderful partner with A.G. Gaston for years, we are bridging the gap and providing academic and artistic enrichment opportunities that our participants wouldn’t be able to access otherwise,” said Adams.
Leroy Abrahams, North Central Alabama Area President for Regions, sees the benefit the Center for a New Generation’s enrichment program offers the community. To Abrahams, Regions’ sponsorship of the program is a way to help ensure a better future.
“We’re approaching this the right way,” Abrahams said. “The more we give back, the more we enrich the community. This allows us to invest, to do more. Maybe some of these kids will end up working for us. Others will run businesses that will make a difference for everyone.”
The initial success of the program has Birmingham City Schools planning to add the program at other campuses in the near future.
Mark Farris of the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club oversees the daily operation of the Center for a New Generation. He recently moved from Atlanta to Birmingham to take on the position.
“I’ve coordinated after-school programs before,” Farris said. “The attention this one is receiving is special in the way it has been received by parents, students and teachers. It’s a big deal in the community, and people are excited to have it here.”
A third-grade parent told Farris she sees a much brighter future for her son now, because of the world opened to him after school. Farris has seen the same change in Gisela Palma’s son, Jesùs, in just a few months.
“Jesùs stands out,” Farris said. “He has become more outgoing, where initially he was so shy. He’s more confident talking to other students and he’s excited to be part of a performance.
“I see similar stories every day, and it means a great deal to me to know that Regions is supporting this wonderful program.”