Long after classes are dismissed and the last school bell rings, roaring laughter and cheering can be heard from the Multipurpose Room at Feltonville Intermediate School.
TV’s aren’t playing in the background and no smartphones or tablets are in sight. Practically unheard of these days, families are sitting around the table, enjoying dinner together, and learning about what’s going on at their child’s school and afterschool program.
Once a month, ECS Out of School Time (OST) hosts these Family Nights, a component that, no matter how much the curriculum may change, will always be included. It provides parents the opportunity to stay connected, hear important announcements from principals and OST staff, celebrate their child’s accolades, and participate in a STEAM activity similar to those done in the afterschool classrooms.
Recognized as a top provider in the city, OST offers a safe and nurturing environment where participants are empowered to do, and be, their best. A typical afternoon or summer day is jam-packed with different clubs, illuminating activities, and nutritious snacks or meals – blended together to support children’s development and academic success.
Divided into two groups, OST serves elementary (pre-K through fifth grade) and middle-school (sixth through eighth grade) students with age-appropriate activities, focus on project-based learning, and the core strategies of effective youth programming focus on academic achievement; the arts; civic engagement and leadership; employability; life skills; mentoring; skill development; and sports and recreation.
Each day, the groups begin with an hour designated to completing their daytime homework assignments. Assistance is provided by OST staff and volunteers, and one-on-one tutoring is available for those who may need the extra help. Afterwards, the fun begins.
For an elementary student participating in science club, the activity may be making a vinegar volcano or homemade ice cream, while for a middle-schooler, building and racing actual Lego® robots or learning computer coding. Elementary recreation includes games that develop physical agility and teamwork, like kickball. The older youth are introduced to sports like lacrosse or fencing. The purpose of these clubs is to expose youth to potential passions they may not otherwise discover.
OST may appear to be a program exclusively benefiting youth, but at its core, OST brings families together and serves as a resource to the community.
Though Feltonville is a diverse, vibrant, and close-knit neighborhood, it’s not without its problems. Poverty and unemployment rates are high, and for some families in the community, times are tough. OST not only saves parents the cost of year-round child care services, it also provides them with peace of mind knowing that their son or daughter is receiving homework help, learning new skills, and being exposed to cultural activities that they, themselves, never got the chance to see or do as children. School and art supplies, t-shirts, and field trip expenses are included – ensuring that just because they may not be able to afford it, no parent is turned away from getting the very best for their child. ECS also leverages private funds to financially support families with vital needs such as utility and mortgage assistance, home repairs, and eviction and foreclosure prevention.
Former participants often keep in touch with OST staff through their high school years and beyond – though the halls seem much smaller than they remember. Some return as interns or volunteers, or as high school seniors needing to complete community service hours required to graduate. Others later return with families of their own. They revisit the school grounds after a long day of work to pick up their child, now enrolled in the program. They reconnect with the place where they grew up – where they were cared for, encouraged, and loved. This time, the gift is being passed down to their child.