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After-School All-Stars: A Real Game Changer

David didn’t like to read and struggled with math. He didn’t make time for homework. He avoided sports and spent most days after school playing video games. He was uncomfortable talking to people. But After-School All-Stars changed his life, and David discovered a passion for learning.

You hear it far too often — young kids getting involved with the wrong crowd, making poor health choices and falling victim to a lifestyle seemingly predetermined for them by their ZIP code. Fortunately, that hasn’t been the outcome for 11-year-old David Vargas. His parents signed him up for After-School All-Stars at the Camden Street Elementary School in Newark.

Before then, David didn’t like to read, struggled with math and didn’t make time for homework. He also avoided sports because he lacked the skills or knowledge to play them. Instead, he spent most days after school inside playing video games. Shy and introverted, David was also uncomfortable talking to people.

After-School All-Stars changed David’s life. Now, the sixth grader looks forward to doing his homework, has improved his math skills and has grown to love reading so much that he takes an extra hour after homework to read books. He’s become such an avid reader that, in one year, he went from reading at a fifth grade level to a 12th grade level.

After-School All-Stars Coach Darrell Davis — “Coach D” to the students — helped teach David about basketball and now David loves shooting hoops as a way to exercise. Coach D also runs cooking classes that are David’s favorite part of the program. He’s learning about nutrition and preparing recipes — and having fun doing it. Cooking became the catalyst for David’s desire to succeed in all areas of the program and spurred him to elevate his academic achievements as well.

“Coach D has been my mentor in the program and a really important person to me,” said David. “He teaches me new recipes and congratulates me every time I overcome an obstacle.”

  After-School All-Stars: Teaching Students to Lead a Healthy and Active Lifestyle


[The video opens with the text “Healthier Together℠” appearing on screen above the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey logo. The screen transitions to the text, “After-School All-Stars: Teaching Students to Lead a Healthy and Active Lifestyle” and David begins speaking. As David speaks, the video transitions through several interactions of David engaging with other members of the After-School All-Stars program.]

[David] Before I came to the after-school program, I really wasn’t eating healthy and I didn’t really know what to eat. But after I learned what to eat and how to eat healthy.

[Coach Darrell Davis] When David first started he was very shy, he stayed to himself, and over the past three years he’s made a full turn around. He really loves coming to the cooking class because he likes to take the recipe home and share it with his family. And in sports, you would think he would be inclined to want to play but in the beginning he didn’t want to. And so now the kids will choose him first and he’s just so excited every time we have cooking class, sports, or in general whatever we do.

True to its mission to support organizations that make New Jersey healthier, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey provided After-School All-Stars in Newark with a $75,000 grant for its Sports as a Hook initiative, now serving more than 200 students in fourth through eighth grade. The engaging activities combine academic and social-emotional development. They also provide an incentive for kids who are struggling academically because they must attend school each day in order to participate after school.

Now in his third year of the program, David has become a leader, mentoring and tutoring students both younger and older than he is. He credits After-School All-Stars for giving him confidence to take charge of his health, schoolwork and future.

“After-School All-Stars helped teach me how to be a better student, make healthy recipes and enjoy playing sports,” said David. “It has also given me the confidence to talk to people and that is one of the most important things because connections make the world go around.”

After-School All-Stars ignited David’s passion for learning and helped pave the path for success in the future. He looks forward to continuing in the program over the next two years before he graduates and attends high school. David’s younger sister will be starting the program next year as a fourth grader and he looks forward to having her follow in his footsteps.