After-school effort spotlighted

Learning: The Lights on Afterschoool rally at Wilde Lake High emphasized the need for after-classes programs.

October 22, 2004|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When it comes to learning, the sound of a bell should never be heard.

"When the final bell rings, the school day does not end," said Roger L. Plunkett, assistant superintendent of the Howard County school system. "Our students can continue learning after school and at home. We want them to shine until they go to bed at night."

That was Plunkett's message last week at Wilde Lake High School, where students and their parents attended the fourth Lights on Afterschool rally, designed to celebrate and raise awareness of the need for after-school programs. The school was one of 6,000 sites across the country to participate in the event.

"It is critical to support our after-school programs," said Del. Neil F. Quinter, a Howard County Democrat. "They decrease the odds of everything bad happening to kids."

Statistics show that between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on school days is the peak period for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sex, said Rick Marquart, Bridges Over Wilde Lake project director.

The Columbia Association runs before- and after-care programs in 19 elementary schools and six middle schools, said Maggie J. Brown, president of the Columbia Association. And the county's library system has many free programs, including online homework help and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) family nights, said Hope Chase, head of the library system's youth services.

The school system's business partners were on hand to discuss their roles in the programs. The Lazarus Foundation - a nonprofit organization that refurbishes computers and teaches computer workshops - provides computers and workshops to schools and programs. Earth Treks, an indoor rock-climbing gym, provides fitness and rock-climbing classes to Wilde Lake Middle School pupils. And the Columbia Housing Corp. provides space for Community Learning Centers. Other business partners include J.C. Penney Co., Howard Community College and the Howard County Local Children's Board.

Although the rally celebrated after-school programs, it was sponsored by Bridges Over Wilde Lake, a federally funded program that is co-sponsored by the Howard County public school system and the Children's Board. The school system received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program.

"It is tied to the No Child Left Behind legislation that says we need to bring all kids up to speed on math and reading by certain dates," Marquart said. The Bridges project focuses on about 400 underachieving students and their families from a feeder cluster of four schools in Wilde Lake village - Running Brook and Bryant Woods elementary schools, Wilde Lake Middle School and Wilde Lake High School. The Bridges project is in its second year.

"We concentrate on the whole child," said Jason McCoy, principal of Bryant Woods. "It is a place where children can be productive for an hour and a half after school. Our first goal is to bring a child up and above grade level. We start with homework help to give the kids additional time to work on their skills. Then we provide enrichment programs like chess club and basketball.

"Our second goal is family involvement," he said. "We have family library nights and parent liaisons that meet with the parents.

"The Bridges program is similar through the middle and high school levels," McCoy said. "It makes the transitions easier for the child."

"Our programs are similar, with a unique look at our own school population," said Amy Mason, site coordinator at Running Brook, where enrichment programs include arts and crafts and a group called "Pretty Girls Inc." for fifth-grade girls. Its goal is to provide girls with positive role models and teach them how to respect themselves and carry themselves in a respectful manner, Mason said.

"The enrichment programs support some of the academic areas and provide a more well-rounded education where students can expand and develop their talents," Mason said.

At Wilde Lake Middle School, after the homework is completed, children can participate in diverse enrichment programs. The school has joined with the National Aquarium in Baltimore to provide a program called Aqua Havens.

"There are 2,500 gallons of fish tanks in the school," said site coordinator Greg Dutton. "The kids take care of the tanks and monitor the food. They take field trips to the Chesapeake Bay, where they plant bay grass. They learn how to fish on fishing field trips."

Students can join a computer-based club called Triple T, which this year will build a Bridges Web site, Dutton said. Three digital cameras will be provided to a photography group, and there will be a video group, which will go to the elementary schools, middle schools and high schools to gather information for the Web site.

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