SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 25, 2013

Column: After-school programs on the way in Salem

Linda Saris
The Salem News

---- — Salem Public Schools and Salem CyberSpace are teaming up to offer a free after-school program starting next month at Collins Middle School for Salem’s middle school students.

Several recent studies have shown that quality after-school programming can make a positive difference on adolescents by enhancing academic achievement and social and emotional development, preventing risky behaviors, and promoting health and wellness.

What is the recipe for quality in after-school programs?

In quality programs, you have highly educated and highly paid staff, highly educated program directors, and smaller group sizes for activities and lower staff/child ratios. You have good connections with schools, community and families, and there is continuous program evaluation of programs and their effectiveness. Programs must be intentional and focused, and there must be sustained participation of students.

Keeping this definition of quality in mind, the Salem Public Schools and Salem CyberSpace recently received a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant for $168,000 to support after-school programs at Collins Middle School. The programs will be free and open to any Salem resident in grades six, seven or eight.

The Learning Center will open Monday, Feb. 25, and will offer project-based activities that are engaging, hands-on and multi-disciplinary in their approach. All activities will have learning objectives tied to Massachusetts’ core curriculum and will be led by licensed teachers. Activities will be chosen based on student-teacher interest and may include projects in culinary, sports/fitness, digital arts or science. Each day will start off with an hour of academic support with small-group instruction.

The program will be offered Monday through Thursday from 2:45 to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Each weekday program will include a free snack and Saturdays a snack and free lunch. Students will pick Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, and all students will come on Saturday. Transportation home will be provided during the week and pickup and drop-off on Saturdays. Every other Saturday will include a field trip, which may include visits to college campuses, museums and corporations.

There will also be a four-week summer program, which will include a service learning project. This grant will continue to provide quality programs for middle school youths through August 2015.

Salem CyberSpace will provide the program oversight and direction. Working closely with the school principals and the site coordinators, my staff will coordinate all the administration, purchasing, budgeting, assessments and reporting, logistics, family and community engagement, and student outreach and retention.

Program oversight will be conducted by the Community Advisory Board in Salem, which is chaired by Dr. Patricia Maguire Meservey, president of Salem State University, and made up of 14 members from every sector in Salem. The board will meet quarterly with Salem CyberSpace, the school principals and the superintendent to assure that the Learning Center is meeting its objectives.

Teachers are also being hired for the site coordinator positions and teaching positions, and these are posted on the Salem Public Schools website. Letters of interest should be emailed to Mary Manning at Collins Middle School at marymanning@salemk12.org.

The Learning Center will also offer many enjoyable and rewarding volunteer opportunities for the community. Volunteers can provide homework help, assist in the activities, chaperone Saturday field trips and/or help with community events. Make a commitment for as little as one day a week or one Saturday field trip. All interested volunteers should contact Debi Chute by email at dchute@salemcyberspace.org.

Salem’s tweens are being offered an opportunity to enjoy their out-of-school time in a quality program that will be supported by the entire community. Spread the word through all your social networks and email lists to make sure that every parent and resident of Salem is aware of the availability of program slots for their children, as well as the job and volunteer opportunities for adults who want to make a difference.

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Linda Saris is the director of Salem CyberSpace, a program of North Shore Community Action Programs Inc. Salem CyberSpace co-wrote the 21st Century Learning Center grant and will work as the program director through the duration of the grant. This is one in a regular series of columns from the Community Advisory Board for the Salem schools.

Get involved Information on the Learning Center program and student registration will be available on the following dates: Jan. 28, Immaculate Conception Parish Center, Latin Coalition/Point Neighborhood Association Meeting, 6:30 p.m. (English and Spanish) -- open to the public Jan. 30, Collins Middle School, 6 to 7 p.m., information session on the programs and student registration. Parents and students of all Salem residents are welcome. (English and Spanish) Information can also be found on the Salem Public School's website, http://salem.k12.ma.us/, Salem CyberSpace's website, www.salemcyberspace.org, or by calling Debi Chute at Salem CyberSpace at 978-740-6667.