It was a first-hand fact-finding tour of the Give Every Child a Chance free tutoring program by Congressman Jeff Denham Thursday afternoon as he met with CEO Carol Davis in the Sun West Place headquarters followed by a close look at GECAC educational operations at Sequoia Elementary School.
Denham was accompanied by his chief of staff Bob Rucker as they were hosted by program director Unaiza Furqan, walking through the school site at the south end of Sequoia Avenue.
Davis told the congressman that Kaiser Permanente has provided annual funding that allows teaching the children about healthy eating habits at many of its afterschool sites.
Furqan led Denham out into the school yard to observe children in after school physical education through sports to ensure their good health. She explained that the instructors switch their students every 45 to 50 minutes to prevent them from becoming bored – and they are right back into the new activity.
“We do a farmers market in cooperation with Second Harvest Food Bank,” she said. “When parents come to pick up their kids, they can pick out the fruits and vegetables they need at home.”
She added that the tutoring program has a good partnership with the school district and they have agreed to buy their produce from the gardens for use in the area schools.
That is in addition to the Food For Thought program where students are given apples, bananas and watermelon as a reward for their successes.
Denham watched a classroom of children go through the Sparkles program for their upcoming spelling tests they were required to learn. They visited another class where children were learning to work with clay and doing free reading.
Seven-year-old second grader Caleb Williams asked the congressman if he could read his book to him. Denham sat down beside the youngster in a tiny chair and listened intently:
“My swing is so big. I will get my cat and my cat will swing with me. My dog will swing………”
The congressman was quick to give his approval saying, “Good job! I read all the time but nobody ever reads to me.”
That brought a wide-eyed grin from the second grader in his first meeting with a Washington, D.C., lawmaker who gave him his complete attention.
It was in 2002 when the tutoring program first opened its first school sites at Sequoia and French Camp schools.
“It’s nice to see them involved and engaged after school,” Denham said.
The program director told the congressman GECAC gives the kids a sense of belonging.
“We see them through sixth grade and we see them coming back to visit once they are in college,” she added. The program routinely sees its volunteers continuing to serve for four years and longer as they work in the seven school districts and some 14 active programs. Some even apply for jobs with GECAC.
Denham was led across campus to see the vegetable garden that is currently a work in progress on the east side of the campus. It was an effort begun by a former teacher who moved on to a Stockton school with the garden turning into a tumble weed patch that is now taking shape as an agricultural effort.
There are six garden plots that are being set up for student plantings where they will learn to enjoy eating the products of their labors. The cost of the plots is $150 each that is being made possible by members of the community and their donations. The cost covers the wooden perimeter of the beds and the gopher netting. Two master gardeners are working with the project currently.
Teacher Alejandra Torres said her kids are anxious to get going on the garden next week after she buys the necessary seeds. She invited Denham to come back for a visit for their harvest and share in the bounty.
Denham said he is working to try and secure a federal grant for GECAC in the next fiscal year.