In our neighborhood the middle school closes at 1:30 p.m. Five years ago, we saw that a lot of kids in the neighborhoods where we own apartments had no safe place to go after school. Statistics show that criminal activity spikes at 3 pm. As a parent who also has to deal with childcare, I became concerned about the early dismissal time. It’s just not safe for a 5th grader to be on his or her own for that amount of time. No parent wants to move to a place like that. We needed to provide better options for them – like an afterschool program.
We wanted to link the program to the Memorial Middle School so that we could serve all kids, especially those who are the hardest to reach -- kids who are the least likely to bring home permission slips or whose parents do not speak English. Partnering with the school would also reduce costs because they could provide the space, transportation, security and other services.
We first met with Memorial Middle School’s principal to pitch our idea. The principal was really open and willing to create the afterschool program for Memorial students. The program, which provides homework help and offers fun arts activities, serves 80 to 100 of the 600 Memorial students from all grades.
When we first began, we did not have 21st Century Community Learning Center funding. By partnering with the school we learned about and implemented the appropriate safety procedures and learned how to address privacy issues and getting parental and other permissions for activities. Ultimately, we were able to get a 21st Century grant to support the after school program.
Working together, the program and the school have been able to more effectively support the students and the community than either could by itself. Part of what makes all of our work possible is having great partners throughout the school department. From the principal of Memorial to the District’s After School Coordinator to the Superintendent of Schools, the staff in Fitchburg work with us to help make it easy for us to participate in a great program that we hope makes the lives of children in the school system a little bit better.
On a personal level, I am always struck by the kids and parents I meet at the school. Time after time fifth graders are serving as interpreters for their parents, and so many parents, particularly immigrant parents, are working to make a better life for their children. I have also been struck at the talent of the staff who run the afterschool programs. The amount that they are able to do and the creativity that they put into some of the afterschool programs is a breath of fresh air.