Commerce ISD Trustee Dr. Mark Reid (right) helped students in Commerce High School's afterschool program learn how to tie a necktie.

An entire school year has passed since the Commerce Independent School District began its robust new afterschool program, and since then, lessons have been learned to improve on the success of the first year.

In August of 2018, news was announced that both Commerce and Boles ISDs were the joint recipients of $1.5 million annually in grant funds from the Afterschool Centers on Education, or ACE, program. 

CISD was set to receive $850,000 per year for the next four years to bolster its afterschool program. With the announcement coming just as school was starting, work had to be done fast to put everything in place. District Superintendent Charlie Alderman said at the time that the process is akin to “building an airplane while you’re already flying.”

But it seems after a year that a sturdy airplane was built, with the program soaring.

Some of the hallmarks of the program have been providing all children with supper before the beginning of activities, as well as offering free transportation home at the end of the program every school night. At the time, Alderman said that the impact of having children who are fed and have their homework done already “takes a huge burden off of families and allows them to not worry and to spend more quality time together in the evening.”

The program in Commerce has been integrated with the local Boys and Girls Club, which have been providing enrichment activities such as robotics, dance, music and more.

When asked last week about his thoughts on how the first full school year of the ACE Program at CISD went, Alderman made sure to give credit where it is due.

“I don’t want to steal any of the thunder away from the Boys and Girls Club, so many people put a lot of effort into having this up and running as soon as we did and to keep it going,” Alderman said. “We have had a few growing pains and some turnover early on with staff, but I think now we are at a good point, and I think our ongoing summer program is going to be even better.”

James Daugherty, the Project Coordinator for the ACE Program, echoed those sentiments.

“There wasn’t a lot of time to plan this out and there were plenty of obstacles in the way,” Daugherty said. “But we were still doing our best to serve students, which is the most important thing.”

Daugherty adds that the number of kids in the program steadily increased throughout the year, and that he finds the types of programming to be impressive.

“These kids are really learning to grow socially, emotionally and to have trust and respect for their peers,” Daugherty said. “We can’t take all the credit though, if it wasn’t for the partnerships with Commerce ISD and the Boys and Girls Clubs, none of this could happen.”

He also said that the program is actively seeking out community members who would like to lend a hand, as they are always welcoming volunteers.

Alderman is in a unique position, as not only is he the district’s top administrator, but he is also a parent, with two children attending Commerce schools as well as participating in the afterschool program. Alderman says that he has seen firsthand the impact it has had on his children and others.

“This has really been a lifesaver for some families,” Alderman said. “The huge financial savings that this brings our district’s families is really evident.”

But its not just about savings on childcare, the enrichment aspect is important too, and Alderman says that programs like the “Power Hour” mentoring program and the “Summer Brain Gain” program are better preparing students for life as well as negating summer learning loss.

There have been plenty of success stories so far. The most visible being Quenton Finney, a freshman at Commerce High School who was chosen as the “Youth of the Year” for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Texas, and competed in the statewide competition, where he gave an impassioned speech about how the club has been impactful to him after the loss of his father.

Alderman points to Finney as a great success story so far, but says that there is still work to be done to turn everyone into a success story.

“The next step is to take what is being done in the program and put it in the classroom,”Alderman said. “The more we can tie in the afterschool program to what we do during school hours, the stronger both aspects become.”