WESTMINSTER — Joseph Blickenstaff III doesn't mind stretching his school day once a week. He calls his 10-hour-Thursdays, including classes and an after-school program, "pretty cool."
Joseph and about 11 other aspiring journalists recently enrolled in an eight-week-session of career exploration, researching, writing and putting a newspaper together as part of an after-school program at West Middle School.
The journalism class was one of five different programs offered to East and West middle school students through the Carroll County Department of Recreation and Parks.
The children also could choose drama, cheerleading or an afternoon of bowling. Class size was limited to 30.
West Middle School students spent about two hours after school each Thursday working on the newspaper.
"It helps me build my writing skills and it beats staying home alone," said Joseph, a sixth-grade student. "Besides, it's not all work, work, work."
When their classes ended at 3:15 p.m., the writers headed down the hall, instead of out the door.
They met with Laurie Precht, director of the after-school program, and her assistant, Nancy Shaw-Hart. The group chatted and snacked together.
"We want to give the kids the opportunity to talk about anything," said Precht, who often sparks conversation with a query from "The Book of Kids' Questions," by Gregory Stock.
Precht also planned for several guests, including county and lawenforcement officials, to speak on a variety of topics, from environmental issues to substance abuse and smoking.
After socializing, the group hit the books, putting together In/Sane, the name they have given their newspaper.
They discussed interviews and tabulated theresults of opinion polls they had conducted among their classmates on subjects like school food, favorite teachers and popular music.
"I want to be in this business one day and own my own paper or magazine," said Dave Shoffner, 12. "This is a great experience."
The finished, 20-page product was delivered to county middle schools March 5.
When the next journalism session began March 11, the group went right back to work.
Bowling, however, was the most popular after-school activity, followed closely by cheerleading.
"I want to be a cheerleader in high school next year," said Nici Durcholz. "This is agood way for me to get some experience and get a jump on the competition."
Deana Rawlin, 19, instructor, promised her students they would learn team work as well as basic routines, and she stressed safety.
Scholarships are available for the eight-week sessions, which cost $25.
Leslie Hinebaugh, child-care coordinator for the Department of Citizen Services, calls the classes her department's answer to after-school day care and an alternative to "hanging out."
"There is nothing for these kids to do in this county," said Hinebaugh, who has three children of her own. "Kids can go to the library or the mall or hang out at each other's houses. Then, who knows what happens until Mom gets home around 7 p.m."
Hinebaugh said she has been pleased with the response to the program. The second session began March 23. Some places are still available and students have more classes to choose.
"We have M-TV dance, with all the latest steps, and a health and beauty class, with tips on hair and skin care," she said.