After-school programs have provided a place for students to go to either improve on homework, have a little bit of fun or simply having a safe place to go until mom or dad come to pick them up. While teens eventually leave to go on to the next chapter of their life, another group of young children will be looking to their care. But, what exactly does the future hold for Hunting Park’s after-school programs and their young attendees?
Sister Ann Provost, executive director of the St. Mercy Neighborhood Ministries, has been helping to lay the ground work for several new ideas that has the potential to help expand on their programming for the next generation of young children that will attend.
She found one of the best ways to know how to improve is to simply talk to the community around you. With the help of 45 people they are in close relation with, they’ve recently added a new pre-school program.
“Our head of child care, Miss Coleman, recognized there was a great need, in talking to families, for pre-school care in the community,” Provost said. The quality of the pre-school’ in the area was not able to match the quality needed for the children, she also said.
The pre-school program currently now has close to 20 pre-school aged children with a place to go for daycare. Provost hopes to reach 20 children by the end of the year and expects they could potentially max out at about 40 children while still remaining within the organizations 100-student ratio. There has also been talk of a teenage program to provide them a place to go and receive help with homework or other personal needs.
In addition they have also incorporated technology even more into their new and already existing programs. It has an Internet hotspot in connection with the Free Library of Philadelphia for students to come in and better understand how to use the web. In addition they have also added a new computer lab with 20 computers for students to learn the basics for programs like Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint.
“We want them to learn the skills that come with using a computer,” Provost said. “We want to show them that it’s an educational tool.”
Older students are given an hour each day to learn how to research and write papers for school. They’re looking to help prepare them for the real world. The younger students and pre-school children use educational games to help with their early learning.
“Many of our children do not have computers at home,” Provost said, “In order to compete in todays world, they need to be given those skills.”
While other institutions may not have the same structure and budget to work with as St. Mercy Neighborhood Ministries, they have become more resourceful when trying to expand their programming.
At the Nicetown-Tioga branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, library supervisor, Kim Robinson has found ways to even make their $200 budget help to make things happen. On her own time she created a chess club for younger students. While it wasn’t an instant hit, membership has begun to grow and more students have been coming back to participate. An adult chess program was also recently implemented, but hasn’t received the same popular response as the kids.Recently, the After School Activities Partnership helped to supply more chess sets for the new club.
For them, expansion happens by using what you have.
“We’ve been able to cobble together many activities,” Robinson said. “This has allowed us to come up with more creative activities to help the children learn as well as have fun.”
This has included the use of tabletop activities, playing the Wii and even a holiday movie showing as a treat before Christmas.
Many institutions with after-school programs have been applying the same strategies to help improve their own programs. Ben Cooper, the head of chess programs for ASAP has recognized the importance of what after-school programming can do for a community.
“Independent after-school programs have begun to change the model of what to expect from these programs,” Cooper said. “You can do so much with after-school programming.”
In Hunting Park places like these are key in making sure that many local children have a safe place to go and kept off the streets. As they continue to look towards the future to help find new ways to help these kids, their own future is still unknown at the moment. But, the rewards are what help them to move forward.
“I was having a rough day a while back, but a young girl was working on a project on bats and asked for my help,” Robinson said. “Helping her absolutely made my day.”