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Keeping Kids Off the Streets

Longfellow Middle School began a pilot after-school program in February

Since it opened in 1990, the Old Firehouse Teen Center has provided a place for students in seventh and eighth grades to go after school to hang out, play games and get help with their homework and out of empty homes.

Longfellow Middle School has developed a partnership with the Old Firehouse Teen Center to allow its students to stay at their school and enjoy many of the same activities, with the added bonus of having a gym for playing basketball, access to the school’s library and some classrooms for academic help.

“We have a bus that goes by the Old Firehouse, so students have been going there directly after school,” said Greg Hood, director of student services at Longfellow. Students from Cooper Middle School also have the opportunity to go to the Old Firehouse’s after school program via a special bus route from their school.

“We’re trying to bridge the gap and offer some of the programs offered at the Old Firehouse five days a week here, but we’re only currently holding this three days per week,” Hood said.

Every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, students whose parents have enrolled them in the program can stay with teachers from 2:30 p.m. until 3:30 p.m., until the program starts in the gym, he said. Parents are responsible for picking their child up at the school or the Old Firehouse by 6 p.m., when the program ends for the day.

“At the Old Firehouse, they have foosball and ping pong, which we don’t have here,” he said. “We do have a gym where the kids can play volleyball and basketball. After the first hour or so, the kids have an hour to utilize tutors from the Old Firehouse that come to the school to help with their homework.”

The Old Firehouse staff maintains control of the program, which Hood said the school hopes to expand next year to five days each week and to include more students.

“Our hope is that this will encourage students who feel the Old Firehouse is too far for them to go after school will feel more comfortable staying at school and want to check it out,” Hood said.

THE OLD FIREHOUSE program was created by a partnership among the McLean Community Center, the Safe Community Coalition and the Faith and Drug Free Youth section of Fairfax County Public Schools, he said. “There’s a lot of issues about what our kids are doing after school, and this provided a place for kids to go after school to have fun and get their homework done.”

Fliers were sent out to inform parents about the availability of the program, also posting it on the school’s Web site and at a Parent Teacher Association meeting, Hood said. “Students needed their parents’ permission to apply to the program and they will need to apply again for our program for the fourth quarter as well,” he said.

There is a $75 fee per student per quarter, but the second session will be “pretty much identical” to the current session, he said.

C.J. Aldrich, a manager at the Old Firehouse that works at Longfellow’s program, said having two sites for Longfellow students to choose from can only help the program continue to grow and include more students.

“At the Firehouse, there’s more of a focus on individual projects. You can go on the computer or play Xbox. We do have activities each day, like board game day on Monday, community service on Tuesday, tutoring on Wednesday,” he said. Community service is a part of the eighth-grade curriculum, and devoting one afternoon to it each week helps the students meet their requirements.

“We help make hats for terminally ill children through the Happy Hats program, which is part of their community service,” Aldrich said.

While the program at the Old Firehouse usually has about 50 students per day, the program at Longfellow is limited to 25 students for each of the three days it’s available, he said, but currently about 10 or 12 students participate.

“We’d love to take this program into other schools in the Dranesville District. Our mission is focused mainly on this area,” he said.

Some of the students are enrolled in the program because their parents want them to get some extra help in school, and Aldrich said he’s made a habit of talking to some of the teachers before each day’s program starts to find out homework assignments so he can make sure work is getting done.

“I can ask the students how they’re doing with certain assignments and let parents know how much of their homework is done when they pick their child up at 6 p.m.,” he said.

At the school, Aldrich has received permission from a teacher to leave text books in her classroom and also to use the computer lab and library for students who need to access the Internet for homework, further proving that the students aren’t just spending their afternoons playing games.

“This is a really good partnership we have with Longfellow, and the kids absolutely benefit from it,” he said.

Omar Mohammed, an eighth-grade student, and Mazin Rayes, a seventh-grader, enjoy playing basketball after school.

“I get a lot of work done too,” Mohammed said.

BEING ABLE TO stay after school is a good idea, Rayes said. “I do a lot of activities instead of just sitting at home on the computer.”

Having tutors or teachers available to help with homework is an added bonus for Mohammed. “The tutors are there to help you if you need it, and you can get your community service done here,” he said.

The boys said they liked to play chicken dodge ball, which is like regular dodge ball, but with rubber chickens instead of foam or rubber balls.

Delaney Allen-Mills and Ashleigh Summers, seventh-graders at Longfellow, had gone to the Old Firehouse for their after-school and Friday night activities before, but are staying at their own school now that the same service is available.

“I get to do homework and stay out of trouble,” Allen-Mills said. “I’ve been to the Old Firehouse before, and it’s fun. It’s probably better there, but here it’s basically the same thing every day.”

“I’m a lot more active here than if I just went home,” Summers said. “Usually when I go home I just sit in front of the TV. I like coming here after school, and I tell my friends about it.”

The current program at Longfellow will end with the third quarter on April 14, Hood said. The fourth-quarter program beings on April 18 and runs through the remainder of the school year, until June 9. More information is available at Longfellow’s Counseling Office or by calling the Old Firehouse at 703-448-8336 or Hood at 703-533-2608.