Their philosophies, their activities, and their constituencies vary, but the three after-school programs profiled here share one essential quality: success. The proof is in the stories of three troubled children whose lives were turned around by these after-school centers.

How to handle “missing the ball”

Daquan “Ty” Brown is a success story at WINGS for Kids, an after-school program in Charleston, South Carolina. When he entered the program, Ty was the new kid at school—an angry, short-tempered, destructive third grader. Ginny Deerin, founder of WINGS for Kids, recalls that he tested her confidence in him again and again. She refused to give up, believing that Ty’s emotional problems, like those of many of the children at WINGS, were connected to failures at school. She set out to give Ty “the missing piece,” as she likes to put it, in his education.

Deerin met Ty at Memminger Elementary School in Charleston, where she started her first after-school program in 2000. The school’s principal, Ann Oplinger, has watched WINGS repeatedly improve her students’ academic and social skills. “It is probably the best after-school program I’ve ever encountered,” she says.

WINGS’ philosophy is based on Harvard scholar Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence goals: self-awareness, managing emotions, motivating oneself, empathy, and handling relationships. Deerin explains the essence of the program with a sports example. “A Little League coach might teach a kid how to hit a baseball,” she says. “WINGS teaches the kid how to handle missing the ball.”

Andrae Sherman, a senior leader at WINGS, worked with Ty while he was in fifth and sixth grade and helped him realize that much of his anger came from frustration with a reading disability. Sherman encouraged Ty to articulate that frustration, which in turn prompted him to cooperate with his classroom teachers to improve his reading.

Sherman took advantage of every teachable moment to help Ty shed his defensive attitude and enjoy being a kid. If Ty was about to throw a foul shot in basketball, Sherman took a moment to talk about pressure and how to calm down. “I know I like to take two dribbles, take a long breath, and then shoot,” he says. If Ty drew a self-portrait in which he looked angry, Sherman sat down with him and talked about what Ty did and didn’t like about himself.

In addition to one-on-one meetings, WINGS is also structured around group sessions. At the start of these gatherings, 10 to 12 children sit in a circle with their leader and discuss how their days went and any upcoming events. Then all 120 kids meet, and some volunteer to share something good that happened to them. The next 45 minutes are spent on homework and then it’s time for activities. Students may choose three activities for a nine-week period. They range from cooking to drama to basketball to math club.

Kids who act up or break the rules report to a leader for a private talk about what happened, why, and what the youngster could have done differently. Managers watch out for “frequent fliers”—students who are regularly sent to see them. A manager will make a special effort to seek out those students, find them “doing good,” and praise them for their behavior. “The idea is to reward the positive,” says Sherman.

“If it wasn’t for WINGS, my life wouldn’t have changed. I would be 100 percent awful,” Ty says.

Learning how to ask questions

Jessi Seda wasn’t used to failure. At Martin Murphy Middle School in Morgan Hill, California, Jessi was a well-rounded student who played sports, had plenty of friends, and had come to expect a long line of As and Bs on her report cards. But she faltered when eighth-grade pre-algebra came along. She just didn’t get it and didn’t know what questions to ask. So she neglected her homework, failed tests, and then suffered the stomach-churning experience of getting a D.

Jessi had once attended a private homework program, but felt it hadn’t helped her. Reluctantly, she agreed to go to an Extreme Learning Center near her mother’s office.

At Extreme Learning, Jessi’s initial assessment revealed that she had particular problems with fractions. She was given software instruction, such as iBoxerMath, which was tailored to focus on that weakness.

David Payne, founder of Extreme Learning Centers, believes technology is a vital but underused tool in education. A former teacher and principal, he started Extreme Learning to fill “a huge need for additional support be- yond the classroom.”

Payne and his organization subscribes to Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. The foundation of Extreme Learning’s success, Payne believes, is its ability to understand students’ strengths and weaknesses through ongoing standards-based assessment. The program helps students build skills to fill their academic gaps.

Jessi’s Extreme Learning instructors also implemented a wide variety of educational approaches that helped her to master algebraic concepts.

“If I didn’t get it over and over again, they just kept trying and trying,” Jessi recalls. She appreciated the instructors’ tenacity, patience, and kindness. She also liked the atmosphere, which was less stifling than that at her previous after-school program. She was typically allowed to take breaks when she requested them, and she could approach any instructor she chose with her questions.

Her Extreme Learning instructors pointed out that if she had a question, someone else in the class probably had it, too. They made it clear to Jessi, who had blamed her regular classroom teacher for her algebra problems, that the reluctance to seek clarification was the root of her problem.

Extreme Learning instructors keep classroom teachers in the loop to make sure students receive the specific help they need. Jessi’s teacher learned more about her difficulties and how she was coping with them from the center’s instructors. As he became aware of the extra effort she was making, he spent more time with her, discussing her progress. Jessi went on to earn a B in algebra.

Getting kicks from poetry

Newly arrived at Scranton Elementary School in Cleveland, José Castro was as “timid as a little mouse,” says his fifth-grade homeroom teacher, Patsy O’Connor. José transferred to Scranton last fall after his single mother died and he and five of his siblings moved in with an aunt and uncle. Deeply hurting from the loss of his mother, José was unexcited about school. But then America SCORES came along.

America SCORES combines soccer, poetry, and community service as a way to engage children in school and create leaders for the future. In Cleveland, for example, SCORES targets underprivileged children.

“These are the kids who usually get attention for all the wrong reasons,” says Miriam Schuman, executive director of SCORES.

Students at SCORES spend three days a week playing soccer (Friday is game day) and two days a week on writing poetry. The attendance policy is strict. Program leaders try to instill commitment and accountability.

José Castro was one of 15 boys and 15 girls chosen by teachers at Scranton Elementary to participate in SCORES. José was excited about being chosen for the program because it gave him a chance to play soccer. “Soccer is cool,” says José. He had never played it before SCORES. Now he talks about becoming a soccer coach.

Despite the program’s name, no one keeps score at SCORES games. Says Schuman, “We want the children to go out there and have a good time.”

Schuman doubts the children would hang around for the poetry if soccer weren’t also on the table. Still, José says the poetry class is an important part of his life. “I would still go to the writing no matter what,” he insists.