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Giving students a chance for life success

There are a lot of things to love about Claremont: the trees, the Village, the abundant parks and the safe streets among them.

But perhaps at the top of that list for many is the city’s public school system. The perennially high-performing schools from Claremont High School down to the elementary levels, are a major lure for young families looking for a great place to raise their children.

And it’s hard to imagine any of that without the small army of volunteers that devote their time, expertise and money to help launch Claremont kids out in the world with the best chance of success.

There are hundreds of anonymous parents and caregivers that show up every day to help in classes, on playgrounds, at events and fundraisers. There are also two key nonprofits that focus on supplementing and improving Claremont schools: one is Claremont After School Programs, better known as CLASP, and the other is the Claremont Educational Foundation, or CEF.

The focus at CLASP is primarily helping kids with their homework. Students, who are recommended to the program by teachers and principals, come to the program three days-per-week for two-hour sessions with some 300 volunteer tutors. The kids get one hour of outside recreation and one hour of tutoring, and the nonprofit supplies a healthy snack.

The tutors come from the community, from the Claremont Colleges, Claremont High, Webb High, and largely from the University of La Verne. The nonprofit has five sites around town: at Blaisdell and Wheeler parks, the Claremont Village Apartments, Good Shephard Lutheran Church and Claremont Presbyterian Church.

The Claremont Educational Foundation funds art and music in the city’s elementary schools, technology in middle and high schools, and the summer SLICE program, among others, through donations and fundraiser proceeds. The group makes innovation grants to schools and community partnership grants to other groups that do good things for Claremont Unified School District. This year CEF has given more than $126,000 in school-site specific grant funding.

Alongside these nonprofits individual volunteers make a difference across Claremont, primarily at elementary schools.

Christine Malally has been Condit Elementary School’s principal for 10 years. She came in at the height of the recession, when layoffs were prevalent. “Budgets got cut, so we didn’t have instructional aides in the classroom,” Ms. Malally said. “With the number of parents that came in and helped out, and the things that we do, without them it would be rough.”

At Condit a cadre of volunteers get materials ready for classrooms, work in centers, read with kids one-on-one, help out with the school’s fitness program, the 100 Mile Club, with fundraisers, luncheons, parties and everything in between. “It’s just across the board,” Ms. Malally said.

Jenny Adams, 41, who has been Oakmont Elementary School’s principal for three years, echoed Ms. Malally’s sentiments. “We have really amazing parents who are very involved, so it’s nice to be able to talk about them a little bit,” Ms. Adams said.

Volunteers play a pivotal role at Oakmont.

“We’ve got parents participating in classrooms who come in and read with students, some that are working with students on different kinds of projects,” Ms. Adams said. “They really help the teachers—especially in the primary grades—to be a lot more involved in hands-on types of projects, like papier-mâché, where with one adult and 24 students you just couldn’t get into a project like that. With those parents in there, they’re able to do a lot more of the more in-depth, cool project work.”

Oakmont fifth graders take a yearly two night trip to Santa Cruz Island, the largest land mass in the Channel Islands chain off the coast of Santa Barbara.

“It’s a pack in/pack out thing,” Ms. Adams said. “We have to bring all our supplies, and it’s a three-quarter mile trek to the campsite and back. We have parent volunteers who jump in and haul all that luggage and those tents and everything back and forth, and keep the kids’ spirits up, and participate on all the hikes, with no showers and just roughing it for three days. They’re just full of enthusiasm and they’re amazing.”

Jan Creasey, 63, has been the program director at CLASP since 2015. The nonprofit got its start in 1994 when the city, CUSD and a group of volunteers helped create Claremont’s Youth Master Plan, which identified afterschool tutoring as a principal need. The local chapter of the National Council of Negro Women and volunteers at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church stepped forward and created separate programs. In 2005 they joined forces, and CLASP was born.

Volunteers are an essential element to CLASP.

“We would not be able to serve the children we do without them,” Ms. Creasey said. “More than half our tutors that come from the community, and there are about 20 or 30 of them, have been volunteering for more than five years. If we get a community member who starts with us, they come back year after year. They speak over and over again about the relationships they develop with the child they work with from week to week. It’s encouraging to see the hugs and the smiles and the recognition, and all the things that kids feel when they’re with their tutor.”

Amy Weiler, 48, is CEF’s president. She is a 22-year Claremont resident. Her three children attended Oakmont, El Roble and CHS. Along with her duties at CEF, she’s a classroom aide at Sumner Danbury Elementary School. She’s been volunteering for years with her childrens’ schools’ parent faculty associations, and has also given time to Claremont Little League. The CEF is chock full of dedicated volunteers.

“We couldn’t do anything without them, of course,” Ms. Weiler said. “Claremont in general is a huge volunteer-based community. I’ve been a part of several organizations that are wonderful, whether it’s sports or community or within the schools, and you just wouldn’t be able to get anything done if you didn’t have people pitching in.”

That volunteer spirit isn’t unique to Claremont, but the city does seem to have a high level of civic and social involvement.

“I think people take pride in our city,” Ms. Weiler said. “People want the best for their families and the city in general so that it continues to be a great place to live. I think it comes from the heart. We’re here, and some things just can’t get done without volunteer-based community groups. People know that and pitch in and support.”

Ms. Malally echoed that sentiment.

“It’s because of our small-town community and the sense of family we have in Claremont that you really see that support,” she said.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com