Community sponsored program focuses on helping students develop life-skills –
Story and photos by Patricia Beech –
After the hallways grew quiet and the buses all departed, twenty-plus students gathered in the cafeteria at North Adams Elementary Tuesday to participate in the kickoff session of the second annual North Adams Afterschool Program.
Randy Chandler, a partner in developing the guidance-based program, calls it “a community-wide effort”
“We saw a need for an afterschool program in our community,” says Chandler. “Local churches stepped up to provide transportation and snacks for the kids, and the school allowed us to use their facility so this program doesn’t need any outside funding at all.”
Focusing on character-building, the three-day-a-week program features fun games and activities, tutoring sessions and help with homework, life-skills lessons, and a healthy snack with a drink provided by local churches.
Volunteer Talitha Parks, representing Church 180 and Celebrate Recovery, is one of the program’s Thursday leaders. She says her focus is on teaching the children “about things they’re going to be dealing with in life.”
Sitting cross-legged on the floor and at a nearby lunch table, the kids listen intently as Parks, waving a small red flashlight tells them, “We are all supposed to be a light.”
She talks about negative circumstances and negative feelings they may be experiencing.
“Maybe you’re hungry, maybe you don’t know if you’re going to get to eat, or maybe your Mom and Dad are arguing – all of those things can be very scary,” she tells them.
Her message is straightforward and heartfelt – with guidance children can learn to make positive life choices.
“These kids are our future,” she says. “If we can get them on the right path now and help them learn how to deal with things and process things in a healthy way, then our future is going to look bright.”
The program’s empowering approach has encouraged student participation.
North Adams fourth grader Katelyn Fletcher says she decided to attend because she heard the program was “inspiring”.
“That’s why I wanted to be here,” she says. “It inspires you to do more and be more active.”
The school’s principal, Deirdre Mills, says the program is exposing students to positive role models and mentors in the community.”
“They really concentrate on character education,” says Mills. “The kids learn to work together, they learn about responsibility and respect, and the volunteers try to give them an idea of the resources that are available to them – they even provide transportation for the kids whose parents have transportation limitations.”
She calls the school-based program a win-win for local families.
“For parents who have to pay daycare, this program provides a place for their children to go after school, and it exposes them to ideas that will help them make better life choices and become good role models in their community.”
Destiny Hurt, a fifth grader at NAE, says she would recommend the program to other students.
“I really like it,” she says. “You get to do all kinds of fun things- that’s why I asked my Mom to sign me up again.”
The program is held immediately after school on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 2:45 to 4:30 p.m., with different volunteers overseeing each day’s activities.
Volunteers include Professor Gaylynn Shipley from Shawnee State University on Tuesdays, Sheriff Kimmy Rogers and Dee Rosselot on Wednesdays, and on Thursdays, Carol Sheridan of Church 180 in Seaman.
According to Chandler, the volunteers follow a curriculum that allows them to develop relationships with the kids while exposing them to methods for dealing with the stress they experience in life.
“We want to effect their future decision-making skills – that’s where it’s at,” he says. “Our volunteers do that by teaching them positive life-skills that build up their self esteem.”
Chandler says that volunteers are key to the program’s success.
“We can always use more volunteers, even if they can only do it once a month or on a particular day of the month,” he says. “That kind of support is greatly needed for these kinds of programs to succeed.”
North Adams High School sophomore Caytie Rains volunteers every Thursday. She believes that it’s important for community members to be involved in the program.
“The kids are being taught important life lessons in a natural learning environment,” she says. “Without role models and volunteers, they wouldn’t have the opportunities they do in this program.”
Winchester resident Ray Ertel volunteers at all three weekly sessions.
“These kids are our future generation,” Ertel says. “We all need positivity in our lives, especially now when there’s so much negativity everywhere, and this program is a step in the right direction.”
Volunteer Carissa Akers says the program is an opportunity to be a positive influence in the lives of children. Her six-year-old daughter Nora attends the program.
“I think it is so important to volunteer for programs like this,” said Akers. “Helping children develop into decent and productive people in our community is something that all of us should care about because eventually, all of us will be affected by the choices they make.”
Principal Mills agrees.
“Helping kids make better choices and become good role models in their community is time that’s well spent,” she says. “This is one of the really great programs that we do here at the school to encourage kids to make better choices, and the longer we keep it here, the better.”
Although the organizers don’t yet have statistical data to determine the program’s effectiveness, Mills says the number of disciplined-related office referrals has dropped significantly since the program began.
“We don’t have the data to correlate the two, but it does seem to suggest the program may be impacting behavioral issues in the school.”
According to Chandler, there are plans to do a student survey to determine the program’s effectiveness, and to evaluate the impact it is having on participating students.”
“Eventually,” says Chandler, we will have some kind of evidence-based scoring that will allow us to point to the program’s successes.”
For more information about the After School Program, or to volunteer, contact Randy Chandler at (513) 509-8802 or email email@example.com.