Troy seeks community buy-in for after-school program

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With the promise of a $5,000 matching grant if the Troy community can raise another $5,000, the Troy Public Schools are looking for ways to raise the funds needed by a November deadline.

In the past, the program for children from 2nd to 8th grade was funded by a federal grant, said W.F. Morrison Assistant Principal Diane Rewerts. However, that program was greatly reduced from around 60 to only 13 schools funded this year.

The foundation that is offering the additional $5,000 grant wants to encourage community buy-in for the program and spur the conversation of how to keep the program funded if the federal funds don’t come back, she said.

Rewerts said that Troy was only able to save its program at the elementary because several private organizations stepped in with temporary funding for this year.

In order to try to help spur community buy-in for the program, one of those organizations is offering to increase their grant by $5,000 if the Troy community can match the grant, she said.

But, the money has to come from within Troy.

In some communities that lost their funding, schools have responded by charging children to participate in the after school program, said Troy Public Schools Superintendent Jacob Francom. Other schools simply closed down their programs altogether.

The current private funding won’t be there next year, and despite mounting pressure from school districts, private donors and politicians, there is no guarantee the federal program will return either, Francom and Rewerts agreed.

Whatever the future holds, Troy Public Schools are hoping to make the community aware of the value the program brings, and encourage local involvement in keeping it alive.

After school

Troy’s after school program is primarily about student enrichment, Francom said.

It is so popular with many children, that participation is actually an incentive students with goal programs strive to earn, Rewerts said.

Especially for parents with no alternative for childcare in the afternoon, the program also provides a safe place for children to be while their parents are still at work, Rewerts said.

What makes it so special — and so popular — is that the program offers a structured opportunity for children to both expand their education and explore additional interests, the two said. And the credit for that goes to Jennifer Higgins, the program supervisor.

During last school year, around 40-50 students participated in the program each night, with at least 100 students registered, Rewerts said.

Higgins said that she thinks the extended learning aspect of the program is what makes it so popular with the children.

“We’re doing a lot of life skills,” she said. “They love cooking, they love gardening — archery. We try to have something for everybody.”

The after-school day begins with a meal, Higgins said. Then a half hour of study time, when students can either finish homework or, if they don’t have any school work, work with any of several online programs that tutor them in any one of their subject areas.

After that, they have a recess, and the final hour leaves them to choose from any of three to four different activities such as sewing, crafting or any number of other life skills.

They try to have varied activities, accommodating active or creative students, or allowing children a chance to explore something outside of what is familiar to them, she said.

“They really like the activities outside, being active,” she said. “We’ll go for a hike, do bike riding, go over to the (disc golf) course.”

One of the most popular activities has involved simply taking the students for a walk down to Roosevelt Park during which they can chat with their friends, she said.

Higgins said there are also activities designed to engage the students in academic subjects — such as science, engineering or the arts — in a different and creative way.

The program does student surveys and tracks participation to help figure out the best ways to engage the students in the program, she said.

There are also career days once a month, when they have someone come in to talk about their career with the students, Higgins said.

And community members already assist with some other activities, such as in teaching sewing or introducing the students to taekwondo, Rewerts said.

At least twice a week, there is one activity in line with the Big Sky Fit Kids program, Higgins said.

“They’ve even done little mini Olympics,” she said.

“We do a service day once a month also. So we will team up with the city, or the senior center, or whoever we can,” Higgins said.

The students also tend a garden at the school, and they host a dinner in the fall with vegetables harvested from the garden. They even get to do the cooking.

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