Back To School 1
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By Sarah Cavill, Contributing Writer

Throughout the school year it’s a balancing act for kids and parents, making sure everyone is where they need to be on any given day. This includes work schedules, academic responsibilities, sports and other extracurriculars, and for many families it requires an extended day program. Working parents are able to rely on these programs after school, where they know their kids will be well taken care of, as well as being active and having fun.

“Most, if not all, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore offer extended care for students, as well as a variety of after-school clubs and activities for students to participate in,” says Lauren Robinson, director of marketing for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The Immaculate Conception School in Towson is one of the many parochial schools in the area to offer extended care. The mission of their program is to align the after-school activities with those values and social skills that are taught during the day. The programalso offers unstructured play, as well as quiet time for homework and studying. Extended care is only offered to enrolled students, but the Archdiocese does have summer camps and programs open to all children.

Many private schools also provide extended care, with activities ranging from quiet time for homework and studying, to sports on the school pitch, computer time, games and crafts. The Woodlands program at Garrison Forest offers designated programming. After enrolling in after-care, girls can sign up for soccer, the drama club, nature photography, engineering, cooking, coding, or Grizzlies on the Run, a running club for girls in grades 3-5 that focuses emotional, social and mental skills, mixed with running drills and games.

The cost and registration process for these programs vary.

While many programs strive to keep the extended care structure more carefree and less intensive than a typical school day, academics do a play a part in the daily curriculum of most programs. Increased academic success is often cited as a benefit of extended day learning.

At Open Door, the before- and after-school extended care program used by 34 schools statewide, with 2,300 children enrolled this past year, there is a concerted effort to mix fun with academics. Students have access to the Camelot learning program, which offers, according to their website, “a skill-based, manipulative-rich ‘non-computer’ learning environment,” for students K-9 who are struggling in math. This is offered in the ‘Honor Roll’ station, where children can also choose to get homework help or study.

Other learning stations include Games Galore, Construction Zone, Art Studio and Chill Space, which offers a chance to relax with friends. Clubs are also a part of Open Door, with opportunities from architecture and current events, to junior counselors, which gives older kids a chance to help out with the younger students.

Similarly, Hot Spots, another in-school provider of before- and after-care services, works to encourage myriad learning opportunities. “We promote academics via aligned activities, in a learner-centered environment before and after the traditional school day. We begin with surveying the teachers at the school to find out what skills they want us to reinforce in our program. This is done through interactive games and activities called Classroom Connections,” says Kori Wilson, chief coordinator at Hot Spots.

The implementation of read aloud sessions, math relay races and spelling team contests are fun and interactive, while reinforcing the curriculum of the school, but with a less structured and formal environment than might be seen during the school day.

“Project Based Learning, Engineering Adventures, Master Mind Kits and student-led clubs are also integrated throughout the program. Just last month – through our Market Day Unit – children wrote a business plan, created a product and sent it to market (inside the program),” says Wilson.

Hot Spots also partners with the 13 schools they work with, to present STEAM nights,wellness programs and art and drama productions.

While Open Door and Hot Spots take place in the school, there are innovative and engaging programs off campus as well.

The Prism program, which is offered two days a week in two-hour sessions at the Corner Community Center in Roland Park, approaches this after-school time with a holistic approach.

“Mindfulness and some sort of mindfulness practice are always incorporated. One of our goals is to teach children about mindfulness and how it can be a tool for managing emotions and navigating everyday life. The curriculum is guided by an overarching theme that unifies the various experiences in each class. Throughout the class we are contemplating a particular idea and practicing it in a various forms. Another consideration is balance in activity and reflection, movement and stillness, awareness of self and others, visual and auditory, structure and openness. Each class ends with sharing and a particular practice to take home and teach their parents,” says Robin Williams, director of Inner Harbor Wellness and Prism.

A session at Prism might include art, yoga, dance, music, reading, games, play, a snack and sharing, with everything designed around the theme, with special attention paid to each child’s individuality.

“We try to meet and accept each student where they are. Our experiences are structured and open ended which encourages and allows for many different responses. Our various activities are bound to evoke strengths and interests from each child,” says Williams.

While many parents may find these various programs a necessity because of work schedules, there are many benefits to children as well, including providing a positive outlet for creativity, structured time that might otherwise be spent alone or unwisely, and a stronger relationship with school and peers. The structure and size of many classrooms can make it difficult for teachers to offer individualized instruction, but extended day programs often allow children to get more focused attention and develop skills and independence in an area where they previously struggled. It’s a win for school, student and parent. •