By STEVE SALDIVAR

At 3 p.m., 21,240 elementary school students flood the streets of San Francisco.

With recent budget cuts to school programs, many of them are finding fewer opportunities to get involved in after-school programs, according to some parents.  So, on a recent Wednesday, 120 students from Marshall Elementary School rallied for support.

They walked through the Mission District  to the 16th Street Bart Station, held up signs and handed out flyers to remind residents about the importance of education beyond the bell.

“There are so many ills in this area,” said Lurecia Amezcua, a parent with two daughters in the Mission Graduate after-school program who attended the annual Lights On Afterschool celebration. “There’s drugs and bars. People need to have respect for all these children.”

Mission Graduates, a nonprofit, provides tutoring and other after-school activities for Marshall’s elementary students. So far, 120 students have enrolled in the tutoring program. In the last year, funding has dropped by $100,000, according to Ario Salazar, the tutoring center director.

Both Stephanie and Mercedes Amezcua have been Mission Graduate students since kindergarten and their grades have gone up, according to their mother.

The Amezcua sister are in the minority, however. Most of the students have failed to do as well. This year, Marshall’s tests dipped below the acceptable level set by No Child Left Behind and some parents and advocates at the school said the need for after-school programs have never been more critical.

“We have to seek donations from individuals and foundations interested in supporting our work and vision,” said Salazar. Some of those philanthropists include The Silver Giving Foundation, The Department of Children, Youth and Families, and Wells Fargo.

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“Schools themselves have lost a great deal of their budget,” Salazar said. “And their after-school programs are linked together. They’re aching.”

Despite the financial setbacks, after-school organizers like Salazar are not going straight home.
“Instead of staying pissed off about the problems, we find solutions we can apply ourselves to.”

So far, they have many volunteers from most universities and colleges in the Bay Area have filled the gap, spending a few hours a week tutoring children.

As Mission Graduate students marched up Mission Street and down Valencia, the chants for more student activities and beating on drums were as loud as the cars who honked their horn.

“She loves it,” says Carmen Aguilar, who was in attendance at Lights On with her third-grade daughter. “I’m the one who is bored.”

“They get help with art and mathematics. As parents we sometime don’t understand their homework. But the tutors do. It’s tremendous.”

The after-school activities are not just a luxury, but often a necessity for working parents, Aguilar said. The Mission Graduates afterschool program continues until 6:00 p.m.

Lights On Afterschool, started by Afterschool Alliance in October 2000 to underscore the urgent need for after-school programs. More than one million parents, teachers and students were estimated to attend these types of celebrations nationwide.

When the flyers had run out at the 16th Street Bart Station and the children grew tired of holding signs, they headed back to Marshall Elementary, colored, glued, read stories in Spanish and waited for their parents.

Other Mission District elementary schools also participated in Lights On including Children’s Day School, Bryant Elementary and both Boys & Girls Club in the Mission District.