After-School All-Stars helps HawaiÊ»i’s at-risk youth become productive community members.

Once upon a time, after-school programming was a rarity within HawaiÊ»i’s public education system, typically regarded as means to an end for children whose parents worked long hours. Then in 1992, actor and activist Arnold Schwarzenegger kick-started After-School All-Stars (ASAS), a project dedicated to holistically enhancing extended-day learning. Today, the non-profit stands tall as a nationally recognized organization with 13 chapters from Honolulu to New York City.

“Our mission is to provide comprehensive after-school programs that not only keep our children safe but also help them to succeed in school and in life,” says Dawn Dunbar, executive director of After-School All-Stars Hawaii. “The idea is for our participants to be safe, healthy, graduate, continue to college and find careers that allow them to give back to the community.”

Nationwide, ASAS serves more than 87,000 low-income, at-risk youths in 13 major cities. The program, which targets middle school students, offers a range of activities including homework review, sports, the arts and field trips. “In our country, more than 15 million school-age children are left on their own after school,” Dunbar says. “ASAS not only provides an outlet for those children who would otherwise be alone, but the program is designed to mentally stimulate and get kids motivated.” Soon after its organizational debut, ASAS Hawaii was established in 2009 with the help of online advertising executive Brett Brewer. After recognizing OÊ»ahu’s lack of opportunities for intermediate-school students, Brewer organized efforts to open a local chapter, serving as the board’s chairman. To start, the program launched in three OÊ»ahu-based schools: Kalakaua Middle and Dole Middle Schools in Kalihi and King Intermediate in KaneÊ»ohe. Today, more than 12 schools across the state actively utilize the program including Ka’u Intermediate, KeaÊ»au Middle and Pahoa Intermediate Schools on HawaiÊ»i Island.

To design an appropriate after-school curriculum, ASAS Hawaii dedicates one full-time worker to be present at each school to work closely with the principal and other faculty members. “Instead of just showing up after school for several hours each day, it is very important for us to have that constant presence at school,” says Dunbar. “By teaming up with the school staff and observing the students all day long, we are better equipped to identify their individual needs and tailor the programming to support existing efforts at the school.”

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ASAS targets middle school students and offers a range of activities, such as playing sports, participating in culinary arts and field trips.

Students are invited on a voluntary basis to join ASAS Hawaii classes, which are available five days a week, promptly following the end of the school day. While each day starts with an academics lab in which students can receive homework support, the school’s teachers are often on hand to provide extra review in core subjects such as English and mathematics.

“It’s not uncommon for teachers to reach out to us and offer to lead the academic programming,” Dunbar says. “We are always thrilled when that happens, because those teachers are in the ideal position to help the children in their studies at that specific school.”

In addition to academics, cultural and artistic enrichment is also a vital part of ASAS Hawaii. Classes designed to build social, artistic and emotional skills take place in the form of cooking, painting, writing and more. “One of our initiatives as a national organization is to prepare students to thrive in the workplace while still in school and also post-graduation,” Dunbar explains. “Our Career Exploration Opportunities (CEO) program offers financial literacy and career development classes, so students can learn how to budget, save and do all the things necessary to become a self-sufficient adult living in the 21st century.”

Student-led service projects also remain an integral part of the ASAS programming to help students engage with their community, enhance student achievement and promote a giving spirit. “Whether we spend a couple hours cleaning up a fish pond or passing out food to the needy, the students develop a stronger sense of social responsibility,” Dunbar says. “In the end, it’s about building better citizens, which yields benefits that surpass the walls of just the classroom.”

While ASAS Hawaii has put in much time and effort and continues to invest in sharpening its curriculum, the organization’s biggest asset lies within its staff. “Ultimately, our kids come to ASAS for the various classes, but they stay because of the teachers,” Dunbar shares. “It is not always easy to find good people available during the hours we need them to be, but we have been very blessed so far.”

As ASAS Hawaii continues to progress on the islands, the organization remains optimistic regarding the future. Community support in the past five years has been overwhelming, and the non-profit hopes that as more parents and educators witnesses first-hand the benefits of providing quality after-school programs, the more schools will open themselves up to host ASAS. “Quite honestly, bridging the socioeconomic gap to give every child an equal opportunity to thrive no matter what their individual circumstances is a relatively easy sell,” Dunbar says. “It’s something all of us already want.”

To learn more about the After-School All-Stars Hawaii, visit asashawaii.org, or call 734-1314.

Photos courtesy After-School All-Stars