Hutchison Elementary School has been selected as the location for the first Boys & Girls Club to open in Herndon.
Focused primarily on serving the Hutchison community, the program is initially slated to serve 30 students, three days a week for three hours after school.
"We currently have counselors and our school's social workers thinking about which students could benefit from the program," said Sheila Kearney, principal, Hutchison Elementary School.
Although Hutchison has other after-school programs, such as a Fairfax County-funded remedial program to offer extra tutorial assistance for Standards of Learning (SOL) exams, a teacher-run homework assistance program and a gymnastics program once a week, Kearney said the school does not have "anything comparable to the Boys & Girls Club."
"I am sure one of the reasons they selected our school was because of our diversity," she said, adding a number of the children at Hutchison have one or both parents that work multiple jobs, leaving them home alone.
"A lot of the parents are protective and do not want their children running around the neighborhood after school," said Kearney. "The potential for an after-school program is great because a number of our students walk to school."
ONE YEAR AGO the Herndon Police Department applied for a grant through the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force in an effort to offer mentorship to at-risk youth in town, said Herndon Police Chief Toussaint Summers Jr.
"After speaking with the Boys & Girls Club, we decided it was better to have them start a program," he said, adding the organization offered to match the police department's $15,000 grant for a total of $30,000 to the start the program.
Summers — head of the regional gang task force — said because the task force's second phase, of a three-phase plan, is education to help prevent gang participation, the grant and partnership with the Boys & Girls Club was a perfect fit.
"The education phase says that a group may request to implement programs," he said. "So I requested money for a mentor of sorts."
Arlene Garcia, program coordinator for the regional gang task force, said after receiving the grant, research was conducted to learn of the highest need for anti-gang education in the community.
"Hutchison was determined as the location based on their need," said Garcia. "There were some needs that had been spoken to us from the school."
AROUND THE TIME the police were determining the logistics of an after-school program, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington was seeking to expand in Fairfax County.
"We're currently located at Bailey's Crossroads because there is a lot of MS-13 activity," said Wonhee Kang, senior branch director of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington. "That's why we're here, is to make sure there's an after-school program available."
Kang said after talking with the county and to the Boys & Girls Club of America — the group the Herndon police contacted — the Greater Washington Chapter and the Herndon Police were connected.
From there, planning began.
"The second [location] recommendation we had was Hutchison because gang activities are happening around there," said Kang. "We were also told there were no other activities there geared toward preventing gang activity."
Because research supports children that are busy in the hours directly after school are less likely to join a gang or get into trouble, the task force is pushing after-school educational activities.
"You can't solely do an anti-gang program," said Garcia. "You never know exactly what you are preventing, but you are working hard with at-risk youth and that is what is important."
Because the Herndon Police will take an active role with the program, Garcia said personnel hired by the Boys & Girls Club to work with the students will also spend one-third of their time with the Herndon Police Department.
As far as student participants, Kang and Garcia said the selection process is up to the school.
"We will work with the school and counselors," said Kang about the collaborative effort. "We want to target at-risk children."
THROUGH THE THREE-HOUR program, selected to run 3:15-6:15 p.m., Kang said the children will focus on four core areas of education.
First will be homework help and tutoring, which Kang said is one of the most important aspects of the program.
The other areas of focus will include computer education, character development and recreational activities, which Kang said include the latest craze of computer dance games.
Kearney said because the school offers remedial after-school programs for third- and fifth-graders, they have decided that initially the fourth- and sixth-grade students will be eligible for the program.
Kang said volunteers are still needed for the program, but that two applicants have been screened and if everything goes as planned they hope to open the program by the end of March or early April.
Once the program is up and running, Kearney said she hopes it will expand into a summer program for all students in the community, adding that will have to be once construction is complete at the school.
"I really want this school to be the heart of the community," she said. "I feel strongly that involvement in any of these activities ... will be good to give these children anchors, while allowing them to be with their friends and learn more about who they are as people through their interactions."