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  • Writer's pictureCarlos Valentin Jr


The Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program provides federal funding for the creation of community learning centers that provide academic, artistic, and cultural enrichment opportunities for children, particularly students who hail from underserved communities. At its core, the program focuses on key academic subjects such as reading, math, and science. This program is also intended to offer students a broad array of activities and to include families and the community in the educational process.

However, this program wouldn't be successful without the countless dedicated and engaged staff whose passion is to help young children develop into well-rounded adolescents and ultimately, productive citizens.

Ms. Maricelly Hernandez, who works with 6th grade students Monday through Thursday, (multiple grades on Fridays) at Dr. William H. Horton Elementary School, is one of those individuals. She recently sat down with ASPIRA Program Coordinator Soledad "Maggie" Aguilar to briefly chat about her role, the impact of the program, and what it means to her. Check it out below! SA: So, how long have you worked with ASPIRA and the 21st CCLC program?

MH: I have been with ASPIRA/21st CCLC program since October 2021.

SA: Students are often shy when it comes to learning new things. What are some of the daily things that you do with ASPIRA and the 21st CCLC to build them up?

MH: Some of my students are not fluent in English, and that can be challenging for them. In order to make them comfortable and open up, I give my lessons mostly in Spanish, always introducing new words in English. This allows the student to be comfortable and be able to express themselves.

SA: How do you assist parents in the 21st CCLC program?

MH: Communication is key when it comes to parent involvement. I keep in touch with parents mainly via text. Because I have established that line of communication they know they can reach me whenever they need to.

SA: What is the biggest challenge that you face on a daily basis? How do you assist parents in the 21st CCLC program?

MH: The biggest challenge at the beginning for me was being able to convince students that a virtual program is fun! For me this is the first time I teach virtually, and it was challenging, being able to fill those awkward silence moments. I have learned that basing my lesson plans around things going on at that time, keeps it fun and engaging. For example, I had a "chocolate week," where we learned all about the cocoa bean and the chocolate making process. To bring the lesson home, we will end the week with a hands-on experience by making a chocolate mug cake! I also make sure I ask them what they would like to do, always keeping their interests the main focus. This is extremely critical. Making lessons fun and interactive keeps the students involved, providing tangible materials to work on keeps them entertained while still learning.

SA: What is the best part of working in and with ASPIRA and the 21st CCLC? MH: The attention to detail and communication. From links to virtual trips to daily communication of what is happening to fun Friday activities. ASPIRA truly cares about our students and always work towards creating a fun, flexible and educational program. At a time where we are limited to what we can do, ASPIRA makes it fun! Thank you so much, Ms. Hernandez. we appreciate the work that you do with young people, our families and our community. You truly are a pillar of the community!

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