TAMPA — Most students bolt for the door when the last bell of the school day rings.
But for dozens of students at Memorial Middle School, the end of the regular school day is the beginning of an extended stay on campus.
The school is one of 16 to host chapters of the After-School All-Stars, a free school-based comprehensive program for at-risk students that offers academic support and sports and enrichment activities.
A large number of students at Memorial are enrolled in intensive math and reading classes, leaving little room in their schedules for elective courses such as art or music.
Many do not have the money for pay-to-play sports programs or have transportation to get to practices.
So when assistant principal Tehia Robinson learned about After-School All-Stars, she knew it would be just the solution Memorial needed to provide sports and enrichment programming to its students.
Three months later, students have visited the University of Tampa to meet the lacrosse team, taken photography and cooking courses, and played flag football ,volleyball and other activities.
The program will extend into the summer even. A partnership with the city of Tampa will shift After-School All-Stars into a six-week full-day program during the summer that will operate in several locations throughout the city.
Robinson said so far, it's proven to be extremely popular.
"Now we have a chance to give those opportunities after school that they miss because of their schedules," she said. "Our kids so deserve it."
According to its website, After-School All-Stars operates in schools where more than 50 percent of the students quality for free or reduced lunch. More than 350 schools are program sites.
Rooted in the Inner City Games Foundation — a Los Angeles-based sports competition founded in 1992 and commissioned by actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger — the goal of the After-School All-Stars is to help students prepare for high school and beyond, said Michael Brown, executive director of the Tampa Bay chapter.
"The data shows that (middle schoolers) are one of the neediest groups," he said. "The kids are on a slippery slope."
About 100 Memorial students are registered in the program. That number is expected to grow when the program goes into a "full launch" at the start of the new school year, Brown said.
Each day begins with students meeting in the cafeteria to eat a hot meal.
"For most of these kids, this will be their dinner," Brown said.
After eating, it's time to do homework or get tutoring from teachers hired by After-School All-Stars.
For Emilio Diaz, 13, this is his favorite part of the program.
"At home, I don't really get a chance to do homework," he said.
Memorial started the program just few months ago, but there's a noticeable change in students' academic performance, said science teacher Gail Ragsdale.
"They're seeing they have someone who can help," she said. "They're proud and take ownership of what they're doing. I see so much possibility here."
Once homework is done, students can choose from a number of sports and wellness or enrichment activities in which to participate.
One recent day, the choices were basketball, jewelry-making or Girl Scouts.
But for some students, After-School All-Stars is about more than getting help with multiplication tables or shooting hoops in the gym.
The teachers and counselors also provide students with skills to help improve their behavior, Brown said.
Sixth-grader Jamaris Hernandez, 11, said she's started behaving better in school since joining After-School All-Stars.
"I like that when I'm mad, they help calm me down," she said. "They'll talk to me and keep me away from the person who upsets me."
Quentin Dewberry, 14, said he's looking forward to spending his summer with After-School All-Stars.
"I like coming out here," he said. "It's a good experience."
To learn more about After-School All-Stars, visit afterschoolallstars.org.
Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected]