PENINSULA - Beginning early next month the Peninsula Learns Afterschool Program will be opening its doors for the new school year. This year expanded services including a new one-on-one mentoring program highlight exciting changes for the program.

Since 1998 the Peninsula Learns Program has provided a safe, fun after school environment where innovative strategies have been utilized to improve students' self esteem and academic performance. The program has faced major funding challenges that have jeopardized continued operations in the past, but is currently entering its third year of expansion.

The first part of the expansion is a result of the opening of the newly remodeled school buildings and the temporary closure of Hilltop School for remodeling. The after school program will now operate three days per week at both Long Beach and Ocean Park schools, allowing more students access to the program.

"Last year we had a small group of third graders that were part of a combined third/fourth grade class in addition to the fourth, fifth and sixth graders," said Larry Cook, program coordinator. "This year all third graders at both schools will be able to attend."

Since its inception, transportation has been a hindrance for some students' ability to attend the program. "We hope with the program operating at the Ocean Park School more students from the north Peninsula will be able to attend," Cook said.

The other, and many would say much needed, part of this year's expansion is the creation of a one-on-one mentoring program for at-risk youth.

"A major focus of Peninsula Learns is to reduce violence and delinquency among the youth of our community and the mentoring program gives us a way to reach the most at-risk youth that may not have access to the after school program," Cook said. "We have been working together with other concerned community groups for a long time to make this happen. Mentoring has been proven to make a real difference in the lives of kids that really need it."

Both the after school and mentoring programs will rely heavily on adult volunteers. "We have always had a large cadre of volunteers helping with the after school program in past years," Cook said, and "now we will be recruiting up to 40 additional adults that want to make a real difference in kids' lives to serve as mentors."

The Peninsula Learns Program is designed to serve 60 to 80 students in the after school program and up to 40 students in the mentoring program. The program is funded by grants from The Governors Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee, Title 1 funds from the Ocean Beach School District and matching funds from Pacific County and the city of Long Beach. Peninsula Learns is currently seeking additional funding. If you have any questions or information about possible funding opportunities or would like to volunteer, call Cook at 244-1001.

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