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After-school Program Thrives at Gunston Elementary

Program includes stem components, helps students learn in safe environment.

There is a dull roar of talking and laughter emanating from the cafeteria at Gunston Elementary School, and it is not lunch time.

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Gunston Elementary School students enjoy health snacks at a new after-school program.

Instead, the after-school program is about to get underway and students are chattering with each other as they find a seat at a cafeteria table. Ms. Ephraim, Gunston’s Guidance Counselor, calls the group to attention and explains that it is time to start working on their homework. Volunteers and other staff members hand out snacks as the kids start focusing on their work.

After homework time, students break out into their self-selected enrichment activity. The Gunston After-School program is in its second year, thanks to the funds raised by the Lorton Community Action Center as well as the generous support of EnviroSolutions (ESI), who donated $2,500 to support the LEGO® Robotics classes.

Additional support is provided by the Wal-Mart Foundation.

"We believe the program has a tremendous impact on our students – particularly those who don’t otherwise have access to some of the extracurricular activities this program offers," said JoVon Rogers, Principal at Gunston Elementary School.

Rogers offers a concrete example of how the program benefits participants.

"One student had a history of misbehavior and was sent to the office quite frequently. However, after participating in the Sports Adventure component of the After-School Program last fall, he has excelled as a leader – even receiving the "Athletic Leader of the Week" award – and he has not received any discipline referrals to the office. Now, we can concentrate on his successes," Rogers said.

The program is also a hit with students as illustrated by their comments. A participant in the Craft Class commented, "I enjoyed working in a group with my classmates. It makes learning more fun" and a student in the Cooking Class said, "I liked making healthy food with Mrs. Benton."

The Gunston After-School program is offered in the fall and in spring. The 2014 spring session operates for five weeks and wraps up the first week of April. The program is offered two afternoons each week and the children have a safe ride home on a school bus. The enrichment activities offered this spring include: Dancing with the Eagles; I-Create; Let’s Learn to Cook; Sports Adventure; Crafty Crafts and LEGO/Robotics. The Robotics is offered at both the beginner and advanced levels. Advance LEGO Robotics allows students to engage in STEM requirements, in addition to the LEGO construction component in the beginner program.

"This opportunity would not have been possible without the generous support of ESI," said LCAC Executive Director Linda Patterson. "Students throughout the program are learning, having fun, all in a safe, supportive environment. I am grateful for such a great community partner."

The fall program had 90 students and the response to the spring program has been overwhelming.

LCAC also partners with William Halley Elementary School on a similar after-school program that serves more than 130 children. To learn more about LCAC visit LortonAction.org or call 703-339-5161.

Andrea Cochrane Tracey is the development director, Lorton Community Action Center.