With lentil goo on his marker stained fingers, Khadar Gaal likes the after-school program at Rockcliffe Middle School just as much as the dal he made there.

“It’s the best,” the Grade 8 student says as his friends goad him for being such a celebrity. “You can do anything you want and the teachers are nice and help with homework.”

And the soup, well, it “looks kind of weird, but it tastes nice.”

The Toronto Community Foundation started “Beyond 3:30” in October, keeping eight inner-city middle schools open until 8 p.m. It is touted as more than a homework club – and a visit to Rockcliffe Middle School says as much — it is chess, clementines and yogurt-filled whole wheat pizza crust.

Vicky Branco is the lead principal with Model Schools for Inner Cities, a Toronto District School Board initiative that helps eliminate learning barriers at schools where many students live in poverty. She said Beyond 3:30 was born out of Toronto Vital Signs’ research that showed middle school students fall into high-risk activities because they have no place to go after school.

Many children are from families who lack the resources to send their child to music lessons, hockey or figure skating — and the new program aims to rectify that with yoga, sports and cooking classes. The program is funded by $300,000 from the Toronto Community Foundation.

“It’s wonderful to see all the children want to be in these programs, and parents not worried about the kids,” Branco said.

Principal Lorne Sederoff said enrolment in Beyond 3:30 is increasing and kids are talking about the program in the halls.

“They’re excited. It’s heightened morale,” he said.

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