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A group of 65 students at Nuestro Mundo Community School meet after school as Puma Scholars — a program that fills a void by offering academic enrichment and other special activities.

The program was started this year after Madison School and Community Recreation was awarded a 21st Century Community Learning Centers federal grant through a competitive application process.

Rachel Deterding, community learning center director, said the program is particularly important for this group of students. A survey conducted as part of the registration process showed 80 percent of the students did not have an opportunity to take part in other activities outside of school. Enrichment opportunities contribute to academic success, she said.

“For me, it’s been very exciting for kids to have the chance to access these opportunities and to realize they have skills and interests that they never thought they had,” Deterding said. “The grant is for five years, so we are hoping to build a strong program that will have a lasting positive impact on our students’ academic achievement and success later in life.”

While a Safe Haven after-school program already existed at Nuestro Mundo and enrolls about 25 students this year, the Community Learning Center grant means more students can be served. MSCR runs Community Learning Centers at 11 elementary schools, four middle schools and one high school.

Eligibility for the Puma Scholars program — named after the school’s mascot — is based on academic need. The goals are to boost student achievement in literacy and math and help students believe in their potential in part through positive adult role modeling. The program also provides resources to adult caregivers of Puma Scholars students so they can support their students’ learning at home.

Puma Scholars continues the bilingual programming offered at Nuestro Mundo Community School and 62 percent of the participants come from Spanish-speaking households.

On a recent afternoon, students made beds, blankets and toys for animals at the Dane County Humane Society. It was one of the enrichment activities offered during Puma Scholars. Optional clubs are also run on certain days.

After the service learning project, the students worked on academics.

“The teachers help you with your homework,” fifth-grader Eduardo Gonzalez Garcia said about why he likes Puma Scholars. “Sometimes they give you free time. We can go to the gym and play or we can stay here and do our homework.”

Fifth-grader Diana Santoyo said she likes to go to the after-school program because she sees her friends there. Fifth-grader Antonio Hernandez said it’s a chance to see friends who aren’t in his class.

Fifth-grader Naomi Gonzalez also noted that the staff members are nice while fifth-grader Keren Corona Cordero said the group “always does fun activities.”

Fifth-grader Yazmin Rodriguez talked about when the group made hot cocoa and constructed gingerbread houses and worked with a “slime” substance and Play-Doh.

The Dane County Humane Society project was part of a “Music with a Purpose” lesson where students wrote raps or songs about an important cause and some of the groups focused on animals.

The project was one of the hands-on enrichment activities offered in the Puma Scholars program in addition to several clubs. “Fun Fridays” activities typically encompass art, movement or food preparation such as making the gingerbread houses.

“Service learning is super important, especially for young children so they grow this compassion for people and other things,” said Erin Schmitz, fifth-grade program leader and a Nuestro Mundo alumni who is now a La Follette High School senior.

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