Adventures begin beyond classroom in after-school program by David Lias The school day doesn't end in the middle of the afternoon for 90 Vermillion youth.
These students of Austin Elementary, Jolley Elementary and Vermillion Middle School are participating in Beyond School Adventures, an after school program made possible here by a state grant received by the Vermillion district for this school year.
"The grant was written last year by Ginnie Talley and Kathy Prasek," said Laura Allen, the Beyond School Adventures coordinator. "They developed a rationale for needing an after school career program because it is the belief of school officials that children in the area need something to do rather than a supervision-based type of after school program, and they wanted to do some things are more activities-based."
The program is offered from 3:15 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the three schools. Students may participate in either a three-day or a five-day program.
Dozens of different programs are offered at the three schools, ranging from arts and crafts to dance and yoga.
An activity that is high on parents' priority lists is to expose youth to more music education � specifically, piano lessons.
"Part of the grant was used to purchase 18 piano keyboards. They are nice Casio keyboards, and currently in all three locations the kids have piano lessons three days a week and they have practice times a couple days a week," Allen said. "We're working with some USD students who are music majors or have some background in piano and they are teaching the classes."
A wide variety of other activities are offered to students who participate in Beyond School Adventures:
* Foreign exchange students in the community visit the programs and offer participants lessons in Japanese and Spanish.
* The USD Chess Club visits students at Jolley Elementary and the middle school and teaches them how to play the strategic game.
* A Native American flute player was recently a guest of the students, and provided music during a wacipi. "One of the things we want to do is bring more cultural programs in, so the students have more experience in that area," Allen said.
* Students in the middle school travel once a week to various locations in Vermillion. "The idea is to have career exploration, to help them learn about other opportunities in the community to get a job when they get older, or perhaps get an idea of what career they may want to study for as they further their educations," Allen said.
* The program purchased roller skates for all of the students. They now go skating about every two weeks at the National Guard Armory.
"We have a former USD cheerleader, Emily Dimock, and she's started up a cheering program at the middle school because they currently don't have cheerleaders at the middle school," Allen said. "We also do baking at the middle school level. Students cook once a week, and the materials that are needed are donated by Hy-Vee."
The students primarily have been working on baking snacks that are later eaten by the programs' participants, but, Allen said, the participants may eventually learn to create an entire meal.
"That's one of the things that we'd like to do � have a dinner for the parents, and have the kids cook all the entrees for all of that," she said.
Besides just providing activity-based programs for the kids, their are educational-based activities as well, Allen said.
"According to a study, most minor crime is done between the hours of 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.," Allen said. "Usually minor crime, sex and drug and alcohol abuse occur during those hours when parents are usually at work."
Beyond School Adventures, she said, creates a positive environment for kids that may have at one time been involved in activity that wasn't the best for them.
"Now there is somewhere where they're being supervised," she said. "One of the things we'd like to do is increase this aspect of the program at the middle school, because they're the students that are primarily more at risk. Parents usually don't think of a seventh-grader or an eighth-grader needing to go anywhere after school rather than home. They may think they're fine, but maybe they're not."
Beyond School Adventures also offers homework help to students at the middle school and Jolley Elementary levels.
"We have tutors that come in from USD and offer help," Allen said. "For example, right now I've got an English major that comes over and helps student with their assignments. If our students spend about a half hour or 45 minutes after school in the program itself doing homework, hopefully they can get enough done so that when they go home it doesn't seem so insurmountable."
The grant was awarded to the Vermillion School District, Allen said, from the governor's office.
The funds pay stipends to the piano and foreign language teachers and a martial arts instructor who participate in the program.
"This year we got $20,000 for stipends to pay the piano teachers, foreign language and kung fu instructors," she said. "And we have $20,600 for the purchase of piano keyboards and other equipment."
The cost of Beyond School Adventures is not covered totally by the grant. Participating students are charged $4.50 a day. Financial assistance is available for children from needy families.
Numerous community organizations also are pitching in to make the program a reality. They include:
Vermillion Parks and Recreation, Clay County Park Board, the Clay County Child Protection Team, Vermillion Head Start, Knights of Columbus, the city of Vermillion and retired teachers.
Assistance is also offered by organizations affiliated with USD, including the Shrine to Music Museum, Office of International Students, Department of American Indian Studies, Department of Music and Fine Art, the DakotaDome, and the Native American Center.