After-school program feeds students’ bodies and minds
By Jennifer Wohlleb
It’s hard to say what students like best about the Tichenor Middle School Boys & Girls Club’s after-school program, homework help, playtime in the gym, service learning projects, maybe dinner or just hanging out with each other.
PHOTO: Dinner is served to Tichenor Middle School students participating in the Boys & Girls Club after-school program. Students Tearsa Brewer, at the front of the line, and Erin Allgeyer are served by site coordinator Jodi Disselkamp and program leader Alex Quigley.
For parents and educators at the Erlanger-Elsmere Independent school, the safe environment and the academic help probably rank at the top.
Before the program, “they would just hang around after school, go up to local restaurants and then eventually go home because so many of them are latchkey kids” said Tichenor Principal Bryant Gillis. “It gives them a place to go in the afternoon. I think they really like it, plus the added meal doesn’t hurt anything.”
Dinner is what sets this program apart from most after-school programs, as well as its cost to parents: $0. More than 60 percent of the students at Tichenor qualified for free or reduced lunch last school year, a number that has grown during the recent economic downturn.
“A lot of kids eat three meals a day here,” said Boys & Girls Club site coordinator Jodi Disselkamp. “Parents have come back to us and said it’s been a great program, it keeps their kid out of trouble and it’s free.”
While about 90 students are enrolled in the program, it sees about 40-50 daily. The program is run by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati, which provides nearly 1,000 dinners at 11 other sites in the area, including Grandview Elementary in Bellevue Independent Schools.
“We serve dinner every night, we have a snack for them after school, we do homework every single day,” Disselkamp said. “And if they don’t have homework, we are doing things to give back to their community or the school with a program called Ready to Serve.”
They have collected canned goods for Hurricane Sandy victims and students have written letters to young storm survivors.
“We’re teaching kids the lesson that no matter how broke you are, you can always give back,” she said. “When we first started, we asked the kids what they wanted to do, and a lot of them said they want to go to soup kitchens or animal shelters.”
Eighth-grader Hunter Farinella, who is new to the program, said there’s not much about it he doesn’t like.
“I like that we’re able to do our homework,” he said. “And today, we’re doing gaming club and sometimes we have cooking club or we go into the gym. It’s much better than sitting around home.”
Trina Jolly, algebra teacher who has taught at Tichenor for 28 years, said she has seen the results of the homework sessions in her classroom. The help one of her students received actually put him a lesson ahead of the rest of the class and he was able to help his classmates master a more complicated skill.
“When we got to that, he could be the tutor and you could just see the pride on his face,” she said.
And while the students appreciate the homework help, the service learning and the life skills – such as team work, cooking and cleaning up after themselves – they really look forward to the fun parts. “I just really like hanging out with my friends,” said sixth-grader Exodus Shorter, as she played Connect-Four with her friend, Jasmine Coffey.
On this particular day, a volunteer from the local library had brought games for the weekly gaming club and worked with students as they played everything from video games to board games. “A lot of these kids come into the library, so this helps us get to know them on a different level,” she said.
Gillis said since the program just started this school year and the dinner component didn’t begin until October. The district is monitoring grades and attendance closely to see what effect this and other changes made in the school are having. He said attendance was up 1.5 percent in October and has improved overall from this point in the previous year.
“I think we’re seeing the homework session (produce results),” he said. “I think for those students who go, that’s a huge thing for them because by the time they get finished (at the after-school program), if you think about it, they’ve got their homework done and they’ve had supper. So, they’re basically done for the evening and I think that really helps the parents out as well.”