Austin students, parents unite after school

Published 8:15 am Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cup stacking was the name of the game at Physical Education Teacher Tina Strauss’s Constellation station Tuesday.

Strauss, one of three teachers at Sumner Elementary School’s Constellation program, showed students how to put cups on top of each other and then take them down. The students got the moves down pretty quickly, but the challenge increased when they relay raced down the hall to see who could finish stacking and unstacking first.

Monica Blinkow reaches out to kick a soccer ball while her son Igor Blinkow during the Constellation program at Sumner Elementary. - Eric Johnson/

Sumner’s Constellation program is one of the unique after school programs done by Austin Public Schools this year. Students and parents are welcome to come in every Tuesday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. to take part in a soccer class, a phy ed activity and a crafts or cooking class headed up by teachers Jennifer Lloyd, Enrique Camarena and Strauss.

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“Children and parents from different cultures have the opportunity to play together,” Camarena said.

The Constellation program, around since November, was the brainchild of the three teachers who wanted to find a way to get parents and kids together. It’s working, as more and more parents, who wouldn’t normally speak, are meeting.

“It’s one thing to play at home with your kids, but to come in here and interact not only with (your child’s) friends and and also the friends’ parents and get to know them,” said John Schramek, who’s come with his daughter Katie to four Constellation days thus far. “It’s just fun to meet other parents. Normally you just meet them through your kids rather than one on one.”

In Lloyd’s room, students learned about Panama and its culture Tuesday. They watched videos of women dancing and wearing las polleras, the Panaman national dress, and then made tembleque, or decorative flowers Panaman dancers put in their hair, out of beads and pipe cleaner.

“We really love for our students and their parents and their siblings to all come and spend time playing together,” Lloyd said.

That’s part of the fun for students, too.

“We like it,” said Nyakouth Tong, a second grader at Sumner.

Many students enjoy Camarena’s soccer lessons, where students and parents go through simple drills, play tag, stretch out and play soccer together.

“It’s a very good idea,” said Katarzyna Blinkow. “We enjoy coming here. The kids have a lot of fun.”

Everyone involved hopes the program can continue despite some looming funding difficulties. Much of the district’s after school programming is paid for through integration funds, which are running low and could disappear from the district’s budget next year. There are rumors from St. Paul that integration funding could be restructured or cut out of the state’s budget while legislators try to fix a $6.2 billion budget deficit during this legislative session, according to Mark Stotts, the district’s finance and operations director.

The Constellation program will continue through February, when district officials will decide whether to continue with the program. Lloyd hopes to move some of the classes outside if the Constellations program continues into the spring. Many hope the program will continue next year, too.

“We do cool things here,” said Fanny Sandoval, a student at Sumner.