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Chatom offers rural families after-school alternatives
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Chatom Elementary third grader Vanessa Padilla practices her artistic ability during an after-school art class. The rural school offers a vast array of after-school enrichment opportunities for its students. - photo by JONATHAN MCCORKELL / The Journal

At Chatom Elementary, a rural school west of Turlock, students can’t exactly walk home from school like thousands in urban and suburban areas do every day. In fact, according to Principal Chanda Rowley, the small school doesn’t even have a bike rack.

Things just work differently in this rural corner, where cows and dairies easily outnumber humans and even canine companions. While life moves at a slower pace —young students could very well find themselves back on the dairy or ranch — doing chores after school instead of homework.

But fortunately for the children exposure to a variety of after-school activities is available at Chatom Elementary.

Through a consortium of schools in Stanislaus County, Chatom has been a grant recipient for at least five years — leading to two after school programs. An enrichment program offers K-5 students the opportunity for classes such as origami, Spanish, drama, sports, computers, chess, food science, Tae Kwon Do, art and photography, and of course tutoring. Classes rotate every trimester.

In addition to the enrichment program, the Chatom After School Recreation and Education (CARE) Program offers intervention classes in math and reading, homework help, sports, music and even field trips. Through CARE, K-8 students are able to remain on campus until 6 p.m., and, while a fee is required, no students are turned away because of an inability to pay. Junior high students are bused in from Mountain View Middle School for the program.

Rowley said the enrichment classes allow students to connect with curriculum in a variety of ways.

“Last week students in Kristen Santo’s Hands on Science class made ice cream as part of their study of states of matter. Theresa Carroll’s drama students performed a play on bus safety and Monica Schut’s art students painted chameleons based on Leo Lionni children’s book ‘A Color of His Own,’” she said.

For Chatom parents, many of whom are farmers and ranchers or commuters, the program is an invaluable benefit. Rebecca Rantz works on her family’s ranch and her husband commutes to the Bay Area. Rantz said that if it wasn’t for after-school care at Chatom her daughter Michaela, a fifth grader, would likely be at home doing chores or homework.

“I’m thrilled she gets to come here after school at do Tae Kwon Do. I really appreciate it because it would be the time after school when you worry about your kids but now there is no worry,” she said.

Charlotte Machado, a working, married mother of three children, said the program allows her a chance to keep her home and life in order.

“The kids do all of their homework here, they learn something new and they get to socialize. When you live out here in the country you’re really isolated so it is important kids get that socialization time,” she explained.

Nearly all of the classes and tutoring involved in the after-school programs are taught by certified instructors or people who are considered experts in their fields.

“This is a great program and I’m so grateful it’s here and my kids are involved. Ultimately, it will help make them well-rounded people,” said Machado.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.