With its after-school program and its five day a week after-school club, Lanier Middle School is way ahead of the game.
The county is trying to catch up to schools like Lanier, by implementing a county-wide expansion of after-school programs for middle schools. The expansion has reached the final phases, and if the budget passes, the current three-day program will increase to five days, allowing parents to rest easy about their children’s whereabouts.
“The plan is to have full-time coordinators at all middle schools by July,” said Mark Emery, coordinator of after-school programs for Fairfax County Public Schools.
That’s the plan, but first the Board of Supervisors has to pass the budget that will get the program on its feet. The original plan called for a three-phase expansion, but the proposed budget has combined phases two and three in order to speed up the process. The fund, with the two phases totaling more than $2 million, passed a preliminary mark-up session Monday, April 24. The mark-up included full-funding for the program, said Chris Leonard, deputy director of Fairfax County’s Department of Communication and Recreation Services. But Leonard said it won’t be official until Monday, May 1, and there’s still no guarantee the board will pass it.
“I wish I could say its official,” said Leonard.
Since the mark-up committee is the same committee making the final decision, the preliminary results look good, said Leonard.
The need for after-school programs for middle-schoolers comes from county statistics related to crime and parental control. According to the county, the prime time for juvenile and gang-related crime on school days is between the hours of 3-6 p.m., the time period when children are generally unsupervised because their parents aren't home from work yet. The county also reports that dual working parents or a single working parent account for 70 percent of the county’s families.
“Parents will benefit by having a safe environment for their kids,” said Leonard.
The main issue is having enough staff to run the programs, said Leonard. The county’s expansion will provide full-time, after-school coordinators to the schools once they pass a thorough screening and interview process. The coordinators then plan and oversee the program, five days a week, at their respective schools.
“The fund provides for an increase in participation, as well as staff,” said Leonard. “I think it will be a tremendous asset to the middles schools.”
FAIRFAX COUNTY conducted a kick-off ceremony for the expansion, Wednesday, April 19, at Luther Jackson Middle School. Board of Supervisors Chair Gerry Connolly (D-At-large) said he hopes the celebration ceremony was not too preliminary and that the board will allocate funding for the program. Students involved at the Luther Jackson after-school program were also there to show their support.
"The after-school program taught me a lot, because I stay out of trouble more now," said Brittany Johnson, an eighth grader.
David Howell, an eighth grade student at Luther Jackson, said he joined the after-school program because he wanted to improve his grades. After-school programs offer everything from tutoring and homework time, to sports and clubs.
"I brought them [grades] up, so now I stay after for the drama club," said David.
Luther Jackson student Liban Mohamed appreciates his after-school time, because it allows him to practice his favorite sport.
"I stay after school for basketball," said Liban. "And it means a lot to me."
The expansion means all 26 Fairfax County middle schools will have an after-school program, five days a week. Phase one has already brought full-time coordinators to 12 middles schools, and the budget approval will allow the remaining 14 schools to catch up.
"We want to make sure that every middle school in Fairfax County has an after-school program available five days a week," said Connolly. "That's the goal, and we're going to achieve it."
Club Lanier is a program already in place at Lanier Middle School. The club is less flexible than the school's three day a week after-school program since student members must sign up and attend all five days. The after-school program, however, offers students an option of activities, and they are not required to attend all three days.
Lake Braddock Secondary School hired its full-time coordinator, Taylor Dixon, on Feb. 13. He has helped the school implement an organized program three days a week, and said he hopes to have it running all five days by the end of this school year.
“It’s going good,” said Dixon. “I came in and was able to take over an already successful program.”
Dixon’s program meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays immediately after the regular school day lets out. The children meet in the cafeteria for a snack and sign up for whatever activity they want to do that day. The children can attend whenever they want, said Dixon, but once they arrive, they must stay until the end of the day if they want to receive a late bus pass.
“The kids really like it,” said Dixon.
The three day program at Frost Middle School offers book, chess, art and fitness clubs, to name a few. Lanier Middle School's after-school programs include Latin, guitar and homework clubs, and children can also stay after school to play intramural sports.
“We believe it’s our responsibility to take care of the kids,” said Aimee Holleb, coordinator of Lanier’s after-school program. “That’s their home away from home.”