Pershing Elementary principal Marcell Archer knows a little something about persistence. Ever since she took the job three years ago, she has worked at bringing meaningful programs – and ways to pay for them – to the school.

“I’ve been applying for grants since I got here, for anything and everything,” she says. “Normally we are turned down.”

But this year, her efforts have paid off, literally, in a big way. Pershing was chosen as one of 25 DISD schools to receive a grant under the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, part of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The grant will mean $792,000 in funding over the next five years, to finance an after-school program for students. The program, which began shortly after school started, was popular immediately. Out of 680 students, 520 (more than 75 percent) signed up.

“We were overwhelmed at the response,” Archer says. “It’s obviously something that parents were more than ready for. It keeps our kids safe, because they’re not latchkey kids. We provide them a snack, they’re learning and doing fun things, and it’s all completely free.”

The classes, which include both academic and enrichment subjects, offer everything from math tutoring to sports to choir lessons. They’re taught by teachers who are paid through the grant for the extra hours worked.

“The first thing we did was survey our staff, to see where the talents were,” Archer says. “Someone knew African dance, so we made that a class. Another knew how to play chess, so we offer that.”

The school’s two community partners, Dallas Park and Recreation and the Junior Players, will teach additional classes.

“They will bring their own employees to teach ballet, cheerleading, drama and other classes,” she says.

Parents like the program because it allows them free, safe childcare every day. Teachers like it because it’s a fun way for them to make some extra money. The kids are also happy.

“They love it,” Archer says. “I thought they’d be tired at the end of the day, but they’re very excited to get to the classes.”

And Archer?

“I’m thrilled,” she says. “I think it’s just all coming together now. We’ve been planting seeds for the last couple of years, and we’re seeing all the great things growing now.”

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