WESTMINSTER - For sixth-graders Ashley VanDoren and Lindsey Peregoff, after-school life is a slice of Norman Rockwell Americana -- nickel sodas at the local drug store and a stroll down Main Street to the public library.
"We like to go to Rexall Drugs after school because they have 5-cent sodas," says 11-year-old Peregoff. "Some eighth-graders walk to the mall after school, but I don't think my mom would let me do that."
Adds VanDoren, "A lot of kids walk to the library after school. We hang out there. We do our homework, and we read Seventeen magazine. There's a lot to do around here."
What was that?
If Peregoff and VanDoren were to poll some of the students at East Middle or other Carroll middle schools, they would find that, well, their perspective on the range of activities differs vastly from that of seventh- and eighth-graders.
"There's nothing do to," says Peggy Dayhoff, a 13-year-old East Middle School eighth-grader. "There's absolutely nothing!"
Her sentiments echo those of seventh- and eighth-graders hanging out in the atrium of downtown's Sherwood Square Mall. Ask them what there is to do and, like Dayhoff, they will shriek, "Absolutely nothing!"
They admit, though, that there are some things to do. Like the library.
"We go to the library until we get in trouble," says Shelley Hinkle, a Westminster 13-year-old. "Well, we don't get in trouble. We get warnings about being too noisy."
In large numbers, middle school students can create a dull roar at the library, and that is always a concern for the staff there.
"We've been working to make sure all library customers feel comfortable coming into the library," says central librarian Dolores Maminski. "We are continuing to monitor on a daily basis to make sure we can forestall any noise and any traffic problems that might occur."
Middle school students, she says, are welcome at Carroll's public libraries.
On weekends, there's always Friday night football games. Problems can arise there, too. Westminster High School Principal Sherri-Le W. Bream sent some 1,800 letters to parents expressing concerns about the supervision and safety of middle school students unattended at football games.
"We were concerned about the safety of the students," Bream says. "In many cases, children weren't supervised. We outlined guidelines for spectators, so parents would make sure their sons or daughters were aware of expectations."
Things have gone smoothly since.
"We want to encourage kids to come out," Bream says. "We feel they become part of the school and so forth. We just want them to be supervised.
"I feel there is a real lack of things for middle school kids to do," she adds.
Most middle school students would agree with that. Grant them a wish and they will ask for: More candy stores.
More food places like McDonald's or Taco Bell.
"We all bring money. If we had an arcade, we wouldn't have any problems," quipped a seventh-grader.
After-school activities. Loud music.
An indoor place to run, to play basketball or other games. An indoor swimming pool and recreation room.
"Wicked, man," says David Middleton, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, about the prospects of an indoor recreation area.
Sometimes wishes come true.
The newly formed Middle School Recreation Council met just last week to plan activities and events to entertain pre-teens and keep them happy.
"What we're trying to do is build a core of kids who want to work on planning activities," says Lisa Sasala, sports and special programs coordinator for the Carroll County Department of Recreation and Parks. "We want kids and others to come to the meetings and decide what kind of activities they want."
One activity is already on the calendar. A Halloween costume and roller-skating party will be conducted from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Sportsman's Hall Roller Skating Club in Arcadia. Students don't have to wear costumes, but a costume contest will be conducted.
The city also has planned some events for middle school students. The Westminster Recreation Department is sponsoring Teen Center Dances from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Longwell Municipal Center on Saturdays, Oct. 27, Nov. 24, Dec. 29, Jan. 26, Feb. 23 and March 30. The dances are open to students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades at East Middle, West Middle and St.
Other activities on the Middle School Council's drawing board include trips to Hersheypark and Ski Liberty and having aerobics and karate classes on a regular basis.
"There's a lot of things we can do," Sasala says. "We have a group of middle school kids who can decide. Activities and planning should all be in the hands of the kids. Parents can come to the meeting, too."
Sasala says some plans are in the works to form an after-school club for middle school students. The club, she says, would meet regularly, two or three times a week.
"Middle school kids have been left out for the most part," Sasala says.
"We're trying to arrange more middle school activities."
Sasala says middle school students have been a neglected group for a long time. She said that although the recreation department determined the need for recreational activities for this age group two years ago, it has only recently been able to address the problem.
"We decided there were two different teen-age groups to address," she says. "We addressed the older teens and now are working on the middle school piece of the puzzle. We get a lot of calls from parents asking, 'What about middle school students?' " Now, she has some answers.