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How Richmond is helping students stay off their phones after school

Posted at 4:25 PM, Apr 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-01 22:34:48-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- I'janee Tunstall used to watch videos on her phone after school out of pure boredom.

"I really didn't have nothing to do. I would be on my phone or watch TV," Tunstall said.

Now, instead of scrolling, Tunstall is featured in posts living her best life at Lucille Brown Middle School's after-school program.

"At first I didn't want to, but everybody was hyping me up, so then I did it," Tunstall said.

The program is called Next Up RVA and is free for all Richmond Public Schools (RPS) middle school students, with the exception of Binford students who have their own after-school program.

It works with community partners who provide programming and give kids something to do after school.

"We talk about empowerment, respect, caring, sometimes we have caring conversations about our feelings, life," Tunstall said.

NextUp RVA is a non-profit that launched at Henderson Middle School in 2014. Since then, nearly 2,000 Richmond students have participated.

"Middle school was kind of like that last stop where we can really intervene and keep kids on a positive path," Barbara Sipe, the President and CEO of Next Up RVA, said.

Sipe said new data showed just how influential this programming can be.

"What we've seen year over year, like every year since our pilot, is that kids who are participating in the after-school programs are doing better, they have better school day attendance, they have better school behavior," Sipe said.

In fact, data shows a 92 percent on-time graduation rate among kids who participated in the first class of NextUp RVA versus a 78.8 graduation rate in RPS as a whole.

"What we want to see is for the entire community, the entire region, to understand how important it is that schools can't do it alone, out of school time matters," Sipe said.

It matters not only for straight-A students like Tunstall but also for kids who struggle in class.

"And so what we know is that those students benefited the most from the after-school program," Sipe said.  "They showed the greatest improvement and graduated on time."

NextUp RVA is funded through dollars from the city and state and private donations, money Tunstall said helped her learn a very important lesson.

"To be myself around other people because trying to not be yourself around other people might not be a good thing and when people learn who you really are that's what it's really about," Tunstall said.

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