All In For Youth Programming
May 11, 2017
by Rick Cole
Given the long-term fiscal stress on local city governments in California, the vast majority of cities focus on what they often call “core services.” While it is not unusual to have youth recreation programs, Santa Monica’s “all in” commitment to youth services is unique. Not only do we actively support early childhood education and “kindergarten readiness” and “a cradle to career” partnership – we also underwrite our public schools in a unique tax-sharing arrangement that will soon be providing an estimated $24 million a year to the Santa Monica-Malibu School District.
A central element of our commitment to promoting youth and community wellbeing is our city-run CREST (Childcare Recreation Enrichment Sports Together) program headed by Concepcion Rechtszajd. CREST, created in 1993, is aimed at K-5 students and offers afterschool enrichment classes, sports programs, playground access and special vacation camps. Our school-based Enrichment Classes are an easy way for parents to add exciting learning adventures to their child's day. Wildly popular classes include ceramics, musical theater, golf, karate and chess. We also offer art, dance, languages and sports - all led by hand-picked, professional instructors for youth in grades K-8. CREST operates on campus at seven local elementary schools and two middle schools.
CREST has 28 permanent staff with more than 70 part-time and seasonal staff and an additional three dozen contract instructors with a budget of $3.1 million and revenue from participant families of $1.2 million.
Recently I paid a visit to Franklin Elementary on an afternoon when the CREST programs were in full swing. I talked to the assistant principal about the partnership between our programs and school day curriculum. I saw firsthand more than 200 kids involved in an amazing range of activities including volleyball, martial arts, Spanish immersion and finishing their homework.
I also had the opportunity to talk to a dozen of Diane Cancino’s bright CREST Club participants. Diane put together a special curriculum to acquaint her 3rd, 4th and 5th Grade students with municipal government. Not only did they learn the basics of municipal government (which they could probably now teach to their parents), but she also had them watch the State of the City video to learn about the major issues facing their community. After, she challenged them to brainstorm ideas that they would like to see in their community and beyond. Each then wrote a letter or created an illustration conveying their suggestions and impressions.
One student suggested a new ride at Pacific Park on the Pier. Another proposed more neighborhood get-togethers. One provided a detailed program for improving our beach clean-up efforts. Another supported the City’s mobility efforts, citing the Expo line and bikeshare programs “for people to be stronger, more active and exploring new places.” One combined a letter with illustrations calling for a broader range of books for students doing class research, giving specific examples of fellow students not finding adequate sources for their school projects.
If one ever despairs of the future, simply reflect on the hope of our CREST students and staff. On paper and in person, Santa Monica’s youth are smart, funny, interesting, diverse and cool. (Is it still cool to be cool?) The kids we are reaching (and the deeply caring staff who are connecting with them) are engaged and passionate. If these young people are our future, our future is bright.