Saving ‘The Wonder Years’

Non-profit targets middle-school students for enriching after-school activity

(Photo Left) After School All Stars launch event at Mastery Charter Cramer Hill celebrated a partnership with the Harris Family Charitable Foundation and its funding of two programs in Camden. The event included 3rd – 8th grade students. Photo courtesy of After-School All Stars of Philadelphia and Camden.

To some, the middle-school years are like the middle child in the family, overlooked, ignored and free to branch into their own independent direction.

The problem however, according to studies, is that youth in the fifth to eighth grades who are left alone between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. are more likely to become involved in gangs, crime, drugs and sexual activity.


This time window holds huge positive potential for youth as well, insists Kelly Woodland, executive director for After-School All Stars of Philadelphia & Camden. So rich is the opportunity to attract students at this age to the arts, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and various careers, that he’s taken to calling this stage “the wonder years.”


“Middle school and the middle school years is where young people turn on or turn off,” says Woodland. “They won’t be college-ready or work-ready if they don’t become exposed to work [interests]” around these years.


ASAS Philadelphia & Camden is part of the national ASAS non-profit, which partners with schools across the country to expand the learning day for children in low-income families. The organization says it provides comprehensive after-school programs “that keep children safe and help them achieve in school and life.”


“We’re a safety net support that allows parents to work a full day, so they don’t have to rush home,” Woodland adds, “Their kids get a snack and a meal, and parents can be assured they’re getting their homework done.”


Unlike other after-school programs that may specifically provide chess or martial arts, ASAS bases its programming on the wants and needs of the school and students.


“We don’t parachute in,” he says of the program, which comes with site coordinators who show up to the school at 1 p.m. to begin prepping for the day. “Our goal is to be part of that school community.”


After-School All Stars was founded in Los Angeles, with Arnold Schwarzenegger serving as executive commissioner in 1991, under the name of Inner-City Games. Five years ago, it changed its name to After-School All Stars, and now serves nearly 92,000 students, in more than 400 schools, across 10 states.


The Philadelphia/Camden chapter operates in five schools, serving more than 350 students.


 Three are in Philadelphia: William D. Kelley in North Philadelphia, Vare-Washington in South Philadelphia, and Conwell Middle Magnet in Port Richmond. At the latter, students have designed their own hand-made comic books that will be turned into digital comics.

Woodland says for troubled and unmotivated students, such activities “can give them a reason to start coming to school.”

Woodland joined ASAS four months ago, after 30 years in youth development for such organizations as the Franklin Institute, the William Penn Foundation and a Community Development Corporation in Point Breeze.


After having run his own firm for the organization and development of nonprofits, Woodland said taking the helm of After-School All Stars of Philadelphia & Camden, “was kind of like returning to my roots.”



Saving ‘The Wonder Years’
Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.


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