The hours after school – 3-7 p.m. – are when Nashville’s students are most vulnerable. As parents conclude work days, the unsupervised hours can leave youth susceptible to real-world dangers and a lack of academic support.
Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA) is there to provide not just supervision, but also structured hours for middle school students focused on promoting education, literacy and mentor relationships.
“It’s not a continuation of school. It’s a different environment where kids feel safe to speak,” said Anna Harutyunyan, NAZA coordinator. NAZA, a nationally recognized system, serves as the coordinator for its community partner-operated afterschool programs. “It’s age-specific activities that foster their development in school and also helps them transfer from middle school to high school.”
The afterschool programs, free to students, operate in more than 40 sites across Nashville. While the programs are open to all Metro middle school students, 81 percent of last year’s participants were economically disadvantaged. NAZA emphasizes arts education, which studies have credited with improving academics and civic behavior.
Programs are for two hours after school Monday-Thursday and include a free snack or hot meal. Metro middle schools students attend the program at their school; bus transportation is available at no cost to students who cannot access offsite programs. NAZA’s partners include the Martha O’Bryan Center, YMCA, YWCA and Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee.
Harutyunyan said one of NAZA’s greatest strengths is its ability to connect youth with a mentor near their age.
“When our mentors are young, we see that students trust them a lot,” she said. “(Students) may not speak up much during school while focused on academic achievement. NAZA time is for children to bring up issues and seek assistance from adults.”
Full-time mentor Niq Tognoni has been introducing students to graphic design, photography and other technology for the last year through Studio NPL, a NAZA partner. The mobile design lab gives students at multiple NAZA sites the opportunity to learn videography, use a 3D printer and design custom buttons.
“The program gives kids perspective on what they can do,” he said. Tognoni said he enjoys developing a relationship with his students, many of whom are excited about the possibility of a professional career in the arts.
Other programs allow students to explore theater, spoken word, hip hop and African dance. There is also a bike repair course.
“Kids have a choice among those clubs to choose what they like best,” Harutyunyan said. “We encourage children to stay with the programs if they want to see results.”
NAZA in 2014 moved from the Mayor’s Office of Children and Youth to become a part of the Nashville Public Library (NPL). This move has brought NPL’s literary resources to NAZA participants.
Harutyunyan explained, “A literacy coach trains our workers on how to promote reading. It’s not just sitting and reading, but various forms of activities that lead to promoting vocabulary or promoting interest in reading.”
Students also get to explore the arts in Nashville through partnerships with the Nashville Symphony and Nashville Ballet. “These events are expensive and most students would not normally have the opportunities,” Harutyunyan said.
Applications for NAZA programs are currently available at Metro schools. For more information on specific programs, visit www.nashvillez.org.