Yvonne Chan: One Story That Should Make a Difference

February 2, 2007

Yvonne Chan has seen many changes during her sixteen-year tenure as principal of the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, in Pacoima, California. She's turned a crack house into a schoolhouse on a campus that now includes three new schools serving 1,900 students, from pre-kindergarten to tenth grade. When asked about the value of after-school programs, she told this story about the different experiences of two brothers.

How can after-school programs affect kids' lives?

One way to portray this is to tell you a true story about two brothers. Ricardo graduated from Vaughn before we made this major commitment and change in our educational system. Out of that five or six years of schooling for him, three years’ worth included all kinds of substitutes, hardly any credentialed teachers -- maybe only one. He was identified as a student with special needs -- with asthma -- so he was absent a lot, and there was absolutely no medical help.

He was an English-language learner. When he graduated from sixth grade, he was still speaking Spanish! His English accomplishments were very minimal.

The after-school program back then was very relaxed -- come-and-go, open door -- so most of the time, he skipped out, went to the neighborhood liquor store, and played video games and raised havoc in the neighborhood.

So, when he finished sixth grade, he went on to middle school. He dropped out and joined gangs -- got into all kinds of problems. When he was sixteen, he was standing right in front of this building and was shot point blank. We buried him.

Now, his half brother, Juan, came to school, dropped off his little sister over here at 7:30, and always came for breakfast, because we offer a lot of choices. So, by 7:50, he started class. He's in tenth grade. He takes the four core classes, he takes Chinese, and he's in one of the school bands. Now, he's also a student with learning problems, but we're able to provide support in very small classes -- everybody knows him.

He has asthma, too, just like his brother, but there's a clinic right there. He was able to get the services and the medication, totally free, from the clinic. His mom takes English classes right here, and the younger sister goes here. After school, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he's taking Mission College classes, one math class and one English class. The other two days, he has clubs. The band has to practice, and we do have a pretty well-organized basketball team.

So, all in all, here's Juan, five days a week, 7:30 to almost 6:30, and he's healthy -- of course, he has asthma, but he's healthy -- he's academically very proficient, and he's very interested in all these extra-curricular activities, too. He will be able to, in a couple years, apply to your top-ten or state universities, going in with an associate arts degree, a lot of knowledge about international studies -- that's our theme -- proficient in English, Spanish, and Chinese, and I think he'll be heading for Harvard, while his brother died.

That's the difference. A big difference. We failed Ricardo. But it's never too late -- never.

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