Chess, Legos and Learning After School

Chess, Legos and Learning After School

Students at Terraset Elementary School stay after school for tutoring, clubs, and games.

Were it not for Terraset Elementary School’s after-school activities, 10-year-old Brian Brinson would be home without adult supervision following school each Monday — when class lets out early — for nearly four hours.

On Monday, Brinson was one of approximately 50 Terraset students who stayed at school long after the afternoon bell rang so they could play chess or math bingo, do homework, create colorful bird masks out of foam material, read stories and receive some extra practice for next spring’s Standards of Learning tests.

"I like being here after school,” Brinson said, concentrating on the chessboard sprawled before him. “I like playing chess. It’s very challenging. It makes you think."

For the last three years, Terraset has been expanding its after-school activity offerings to give the school’s youngsters an alternative to sitting at home in empty houses with little to do but watch television, or in potentially worse cases, off somewhere in Reston getting into mischief.

“We’re trying to come up with as many things for them to do after school as possible,” said Terraset’s Principal Ellen Cury. “We don’t want them to go home to an empty house. A lot of these kids’ parents work two or three jobs.”

TERRASET is a school with a high rate of poverty among its students. More than one out of every three children enrolled at the school is eligible for free or reduced price lunch, according to federal education records.

With such a large number of working class families, many of the children’s parents struggle to provide adequate child care in the afternoons while they’re still at work.

Studies have indicated that the hours after school when children are often left unsupervised can be particularly dangerous. Almost 30 percent of juvenile crimes are committed from between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on school days. And the number of violent crimes doubles in the hour immediately after school lets out, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice.

But after-school activities, like those offered at Terraset, are intended to do far more than merely keep unsupervised children out of trouble. They are seen as a chance to provide further enrichment, extra help in tricky subjects, and a way to make intellectual and strategic thinking seem like fun.

"The time they spend here after school at Terraset is quality time," Cury said.

Also, because the students can finish most of their homework at the after-school program, they can spend more time with their parents later in the evening.

"It gives parents time to just sit back and talk with their children," Cury said. "It's wonderful for the students and it's wonderful for the community."

TERRASET'S largest after-school program, the Clubhouse, has been run in conjunction with the Reston Community for three years and meets three times a week.

The school's newest activities, the chess and Lego clubs, meet each Monday after class lets out. Starting in January, the PTA will begin to offer a tennis club after school.

Terraset also offers a range of remedial and tutoring after-school activities specifically geared toward boosting student performance on SOL tests. These activities are partially funded by federal Title I money, which is provided to schools with higher rates of poverty.

Those extra few hours of supervised and organized activities in the afternoon give the students invaluable academic, social and physical enrichment, said Julie Windsor, RCC's coordinator of the Clubhouse program.

"It's so important for the kids to have a little extra time and attention," she said.

WHILE OFFERING after-school activities may not be unique, Terraset has reported significant gains in the success of its after-school activity participants.

"We've started to see a correlation between the children who attend the Clubhouse and an increase in test scores and grades," Cury said.

Also, 80 percent of the students who attended the Learning Buddies program last year pass the SOL exams. Learning Buddies, which runs from January until April, provides children with extra help for the state-mandated science, math and English standardized tests.

But the children attending the after-school activities on Monday seemed less concerned with academic gains and more interested in enjoying themselves.

"I think this is fun," said nine-year-old Kenzy Forman, as she played chess against her classmate Maddy White. "I've never played chess before. She's beating me, but it's still fun."