Education beyond the classroom. L.A.'s Superschool keeps children learning after 2:45

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Every Wednesday at 2:45 p.m., eight-year-old Myung trades in her classroom computer keyboard for a chess board. On Thursdays, fifth-grader Armande switches gears from mathematics to musical comedy. And once a week, kindergartener Katie joins children of all ages for an hour of creative dance. The scene at an exclusive private school? Not at all. This is Third Street Elementary School in the Los Angeles Unified School District -- and this is a program called Superschool.

When, after passage of California's tax-cutting Proposition 13 in the summer of 1978, the school eliminated art, music, and drama from the regular curriculum, parents at this elementary school pooled their resources and energies to create a program of after-school enrichment. Now in its 12th year, Superschool has over 200 children enrolled, fully one-third of the student body.

For a fee of $20 to $45, students attend once-a-week classes for 12 weeks. Included in this year's offering of 35 courses are classes in American music, French, Spanish, ballet, guitar, drama, jazz, clay sculpture, art history, computers, and tutorial help in any course needed.

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For those families who can't afford to pay, tuition is waived. That is a significant aspect of Superschool to Third Street's principal, Barbara Lake.

She feels that the convenience of on-campus extended-day enrichment programs is of particular advantage to the working parent who wouldn't otherwise have the means or the opportunity to drive a child to dance classes or music lessons. Mrs. Lake adds: ``We want the community to know that the schools are interested in teaching the whole child. The school day shouldn't have to end at 2:45 just because regular classes do.''

Superschool teachers come from very diverse backgrounds. Many teach in other Los Angeles schools and come to Third Street when their regular school day is over. But an equal number are nonteaching professionals sharing their own professional skills with these curious youngsters. For example, the creative-dance teacher has danced on Broadway. Chess classes are taught by national masters. The astronomy teacher works full time at Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles -- and includes as part of his course a night field trip to the observatory to explore the planetarium. And the graphics animation instructor has taught her classes while on two maternity leaves from professional animation work.

``Superschool has come a long way from the days when it was just graduate students teaching music to a handful of children,'' according to Gwen Roberts, Superschool's coordinator for the past 10 years. Children's interests are always changing, and Gwen likes to change Superschool along with them. Just last year roller skating was added to the curriculum. This year it is no longer offered, but a musical comedy workshop is. When computers were added to the classrooms at Third Street two years ago, computers were also added to the Superschool curriculum, allowing the children more time at the keyboard.

And the students are not all children anymore, either. Adults are welcome in many of the classes.

But, adult or child, the fun of the program lies in the exposure to something new and the chance to explore new fields of interest. Photography students visit professional darkrooms to see how they work. Animation students complete the course with their own filmstrip to show for their efforts. ``Everyone comes out of Superschool richer,'' says one parent.

Sponsored by the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), Superschool has become totally self-supporting -- thanks, in part, to the Board of Education, which provides no-cost leases for the use of the school property after regular hours. The current Third Street PTA president, Phyllis Lanni, has loved Superschool as a parent but now has even more reason to be excited. As she says, ``Superschool so beautifully fulfills the objects of the PTA because it encourages educators and the general public to be united in their efforts to enrich each student mentally, spiritually, physically, and socially.''

At the end of the 12 weeks, a talent show is put on for the whole community. The children who have studied ballet, dance, drama, or music perform. Classes in subjects that don't lend themselves to live performances put out displays for all to see. Of course, because it's Superschool, there's always an exception. Last year's astronomy class actually put on a skit. For this year's show, the sky's the limit.

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