After the Bell rings in new year for students

Posted: Wednesday, October 11, 2000

School's out. Mom and Dad will be at work until dinner time. Junior is stumped by a homework assignment. What's a kid to do?

For Soldotna students, the After the Bell program offers one answer.

The after-school program offers tutoring, recreation and supervision from the time school dismisses until late afternoon. It is entering its second year with a new director, a new site and expanding offerings.

"There is a gigantic need for this program," said Jeanne Waldren, the new director.

Parents involved during last year's pilot program and the summer session are enthusiastic.

"We loved it," said Annette Geleide. "It is a very good program, especially for kids who have no place to go after school."

Her daughter attended the Redoubt Elementary School Clubhouse last year, and her son attended the one at Soldotna Middle School. Her daughter enjoyed the enrichment activities and her son, who had been struggling with his classes, successfully passed into high school. That success was due, in large part, to After the Bell, Geleide said.

"It brought all his grades up," she said.

Twelve-year-old Brooke Bailey-Hensley gave it high marks, too.

"The After the Bell program was a lot of fun," she said.

Her mother, Febra Hensley, was impressed by the caliber of the teachers and the diversity of the activities. The summer program was the highlight of her daughter's vacation, she said.

"If she had to miss a day, she was disappointed," Hensley said.

"It was a fabulous program. For the money, it was the best thing any parent could get their kid involved in."

Waldren picked up the reins Aug. 22, replacing Rosemary Bushon, who retired.

Waldren worked with after-school programs in Oregon. However, she is no stranger to Soldotna.

She lived on the central Kenai Peninsula from 1974 to 1983, during which time her children attended Soldotna High School. One of her daughters still lives in Soldotna and told Waldren that the perfect job for her was available.

"I love it here," Waldren said. "I never dreamed I'd be back."

The management transition has been an opportunity to review and make modifications based on what was learned from the pilot programs last year at Redoubt Elementary, Soldotna Middle, Skyview High and Soldotna High schools.

Waldren said After the Bell personnel were reorganized this fall so each school would have an on-site coordinator.

Programs already are operating at the two high schools, with the others beginning today. This year Soldotna Elementary School joins the list of sites.

"Skyview is just going gangbusters," Waldren said.

Currently the largest program, it is drawing about 30 students every Monday through Thursday.

On the elementary level, the program offers homework help, tutoring, enrichment (such as arts and crafts) and recreation. On the middle and high school levels it offers study skills, homework help, tutoring, preparation for college board tests, study for the Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Exam and mini courses.

The mini courses are opportunities for students to explore hobbies and pick up skills. Examples might include guitar playing or cooking projects. Students will be polled to see what topics interest them, Waldren said.

"It's just being put together," she said. "Right now, it is stepping in to find out what the kids want and what the teachers think they need."

One goal is to partner with the schools to promote learning. Another is to have variety within the academic guidelines and to showcase the fun side of learning, she said.

Waldren plans to expand offerings for older students and to court those who may be reluctant scholars. Math, especially, is a weak link for many of them, and they will need to master it to conquer the new high school exit exams.

"I suppose that is one of our main focuses," she said, "to get our kids to meet those benchmarks and to pass the exit exam."

After the Bell is operated as a partnership of the Boys and Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula, Soldotna Community Schools and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. To participate, families pay $20 dues per calendar year to the Boys and Girls Club.

The rest of the program cost is funded by a $1.5 million three-year federal grant.

The grant will expire at the end of the 2001-02 school year, and what will happen after that is a major concern for those involved with the program.

"We have to sell the community and really prove ourselves," Waldren said. "We need to go out and get more funding. I am not certain how we will do that. ... Collaboration with the community is vital in keeping the after-school program going."

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