FOLLANSBEE - Those who remember being kept after school for detention may be surprised at the positive attitude youth at Follansbee Middle School have about an after-school program there.
But that's because the pupils aren't being punished. They're playing games, learning to cook and doing other activities as well as receiving help with their homework and a free meal thanks to a group of teachers at the school and a local community agency.
The after-school program began after sixth-grade teacher Richard Whitehead overheard a student say that when he returned home, he would be alone for a while and bored.
HOMEWORK HELP. Follansbee Middle School teacher Megan Moroz assists sixth-grader Evita Yang with her homework during the after-school program established by sixth-grade teachers at the school. Children in the voluntary program also receive free meals, through a federal grant secured by C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc., and participate in a variety of activities under the direction of Moroz and several other teachers who have volunteered. -- Warren Scott
FREE MEALS. Sixth-grade teacher Richard Whitehead watches as C.J. Helms, a pupil at Follansbee Middle School, prepares to distribute food to pupils participating in a voluntary after-school program at the school. The free meals are provided through a federal grant secured by C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc. Children in the after-school program also participate in various activities and receive homework assistance from several teachers. -- Warren Scott
Whitehead approached fellow sixth-grade teachers about staying after school to help their pupils with homework and direct them in other activities.
"I ran the idea by the sixth-grade teachers and they were all willing to do it," he said.
Whitehead, who expected perhaps 15 children would participate, was surprised when 62, almost half of the sixth grade, returned permission slips from their parents.
The school's PTA supported the effort, and many parents probably appreciate having their children in a safe, supervised place, Whitehead said. But the children also welcomed the program.
"The very first day I was caught off guard because a student said 'I'm excited.' I asked why, and he said, 'First day of the after-school program,'" Whitehead said.
"The kids really look forward to it and enjoy it," agreed Megan Moroz, another sixth-grade teacher at the school.
Sixth-grade teachers Christine Warco, Dana Durbin, Monica Gray and Molly Cribbs also have agreed to volunteer their time.
Each day two or three of the teachers oversee the program, which usually follows a routine.
"We work with them with their homework for the first half, then we have dinner. After we eat, we split them up. Half will go to the computer lab, half will go do some cooking. If the weather is good, we might play kickball outside," Whitehead said.
Some children are picked up by their parents, but many ride school buses that normally carry small loads of students involved in sports and other extracurricular after-school activities.
The meals are provided by C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc., a Weirton-based community action council, that also has supplied lunches at area parks during the summer through federal funds issued through the West Virginia Department of Education's Office of Children Nutrition.
C.H.A.N.G.E. Inc. has extended the summer program into the school year through other sites, including the After-school Adventures Program overseen by the Brooke-Hancock-Ohio-Marshall Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.
The goal is to offer meals to any child, so those who are missing meals because of poverty have access to them without being embarrassed.
The pupils also get to do a little cooking of their own, learning to make cupcakes, cookies and Jell-O in the kitchen of the teacher's lounge in recent months. There are plans to make spaghetti in the future.
"I like that it touches on all aspects of a child's development, including social and life skills," said Kim Johnson, principal. Johnson added the program attracts children of various economic backgrounds and academic skills.
Students also have made posters for their lockers using a computer graphics program in the school's computer lab. Warco is planning to lead the children in making assorted crafts from multi-colored rolls of duct tape, a current fad among many children.
Whitehead said the teachers are accepting donations of materials for crafts and child-size white T-shirts that may be used when painting.
Also welcome are volunteers with skills they would like to share with a young person. For information, call the school at (304) 527-1942.
He added the program has received a boost from local businesses, including Wal-Mart, which awarded it a $1,00 grant; Sheetz, which has made a $150 donation; and the Marquee Cinema in Wheeling, which has donated movie tickets the teacher plan to award as a prize to pupils with perfect attendance in the program.
There should be plenty of contenders, as several of the children had good things to say about the program.
"I think it's fun because we actually do something instead of going home and just doing homework," said Kayliegh Hrancho, a pupil from Hooverson Heights.
"This is the only way we can unite with our friends besides at recess. And all of the teachers can help us with our homework," said Heather Akers of Colliers.
"This is when we get to have fun," said George Makricostas of Weirton, who said it was fun to see one of his teachers remove her dress shoes so she could traverse the bases in a game of kickball.
Whitehead said having more personal interaction with the pupils through such activities has benefited the teachers also.
Currently there are enough teachers to oversee the sixth-graders involved. Whether the program will be expanded to include other grades will depend on the interest of pupils and teachers in them.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)