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A Place To Go After School

Bonnie Brae, Pinn Center team up.

For some students, the learning experience doesn’t end at 3 p.m.

After-school programs are gaining ground as opportunities to supplement the lessons learned in school, said Mark Emery, after-school program coordinator for Fairfax County Public Schools.

"(After-school programs) provide a safe haven for young children," said Emery. "They feel more a part of the school and part of the community, and that all leads to better activity and youth development."

Testing this idea is principal Kathy Bruce of Bonnie Brae Elementary School, who teamed up with Michelle Chapman-Campbell of the David R. Pinn Community Center in Fairfax to start a joint after-school program at the center.

Administrators are still in the process of designing it, said Bruce, but the program, which is set to begin Oct. 4, will bring 20 students from the third to sixth grades to the Pinn Center every day after school until 6 p.m.

"It’s just one way that the school can help support the community and its students," said Bruce. "It’s just an additional way to build a partnership with the community."

The Pinn Center has had a drop-in after-school program since it began, with non-structured activity and supervision, said Chapman-Campbell.

"There’s a need for structured programs," she said. "It’s part of what we are as a community center." So Chapman-Campbell sent out letters to area principals asking what they thought of a structured program.

When Chapman-Campbell contacted Bruce last year about possibly starting a joint after-school program, said Bruce, she jumped at the chance.

"Why not?" said Bruce. "The bottom line is, anytime schools can support students and families in any extra program, it is important."

"As a parent, I would prefer to have my child, no matter what age, be in some type of structured after-school activity," said Chapman-Campbell. "It’s just the way it should be. As an agency, that is what we provide for youth."

"Nationally, the need for after-school programs remains huge," said Ben Paul, chief operating officer of the national nonprofit organization After-School All-Stars. "Between 14 and 15 million school-age children take care of themselves after school, a large percentage of which would happily join an after-school program."

ACCORDING TO a survey conducted by the Afterschool Alliance, 26 percent of children would participate in an after-school program if one were available.

After-school programs such as the Bonnie Brae-Pinn Center program operate during what Paul refers to as the "critical time zone." According to a report compiled by national crime prevention organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, most crime involving youth occurs between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. during the school year.

"That’s the time children can very easily get on the wrong track," said Paul. "Our primary goal to keep children safe from 3 to 6."

After-school programs can also serve as extensions of the learning that takes place during the school day, said Emery.

"A typical program offers a blend of activities, but really hits the subjects of academic support, of sports, youth development," he said. "It could be some prevention programs, it could be social skill development activities, or peer mediation classes."

"Once we have the kids, we have an opportunity not only to be safe, but to give them a leg up on life," said Paul.

The Bonnie Brae program will include homework help, field trips, and character-building activities, said Bruce and Chapman-Campell. The program will also incorporate experiential learning, and two days a week students will take a trip to the Mott Community Center to work at the Computer Clubhouse.

"The program is designed to support SOL preparation and also with homework assistance, but it is not a tutoring program," said Chapman-Campbell.

Bonnie Brae teachers will also work with Pinn Center staff throughout the year to keep them updated on what the students are learning in school, said Bruce.

"[Pinn Center staff] will become familiar with the materials, and how we should interact and what the objectives are," said Chapman-Campbell. The Pinn Center received a grant to operate the program, which will be free for students, she said.

SCHOOLS THAT operate after-school programs such as the one at the Pinn Center generally work with community coalitions, which develop "mini-grants," said Emery, as well as community members who volunteer time and money to the programs. Of the School Board budget, $35,000 is set aside for after-school programs, he said.

The Pinn Center receives its funding from the Fairfax County government, said Chapman-Campbell. According to the Fairfax County budget plan for school-related services, the Department of Community and Recreation Services set aside $162,028 for after-school programs in fiscal year 2005, with $148,099 designated in 2006.

Other after-school programs include those run by schools themselves, or at community centers such as Gum Springs in Alexandria or the Mott Center in Fairfax.

"After-school programs are good for parents who can’t get there to pick their kids up until 6. It gives them another outlet," said Harry McCall, who manages the after-school program at the Mott Center. "After they get out of school, they want to relax, they want to be in another environment. When I work with them, I try to let them have fun."

At the Mott Center, McCall said, students go on field trips, work on homework, play music and outdoor games, do crafts, and occasionally put on a talent show.

"It’s more than just a program at the school," said Bruce. "It is a partnership with the community."