Friday, August 18, 2000

Latchkey program offers 'little college' life

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's a warm summer morning, but 11-year-old Lauren Dafler is content to stay inside and create small animals from beads.

        She and the other 10 to 13 year olds in the Fairfield Intermediate Summer Program will catch their sunshine later. They'll play tag, basketball and soccer.

        “I think it's fun,” Lauren says of the program, a more relaxed version of the district's after-school program. “We'll cook or we'll go on field trips. My favorite thing this summer is Surf Cincinnati.”

        4C, a child-care resource and referral agency, cites the Fairfield program as a quality after school program for older children. When the National Older Kids Conference met in Cincinnati earlier this month, conference-goers toured the site.

        Program creators know if they're going to attract middle school kids after school, they have to appeal to them with age-appropriate activities that are enriching and fun.

        “What's developmentally appropriate for 5-year-olds is not developmentally appropriate for 10- or 11-year-olds,” says Chris Schmidt, Out of School Time specialist for 4C.

        A quality after school program for middle school kids includes snacks, time to chill, physical activity and time to do homework. The best programs, Mrs. Schmidt says, offer experiential learning that complements kids' academic skills.

        “If they learn fractions during the day, what we do in after-school is cook with them,” she says. “We use one-fourth cup and help them internalize that theory and help them master it.”

        Community contact is another sign of a quality program. Students can perform community service, or the community can visit them with dance and karate lessons.

        The environment should be stimulating with puzzles and computers, yet homelike with such things as beanbag chairs, so students can relax and listen to music. “Above all, there needs to be choice,” Mrs. Schmidt says.

        Among activities at Fairfield's programs: field trips, including one to Imago on Native American Day; baby-sitting courses, cooking, crafts, sports, homework, board games and visits from a librarian who reads books to the kids.

        “This is our fourth year, so all of our bugs aren't worked out,” says Anne Price, district latchkey coordinator for Fairfield City Schools. “We're managing to figure out what kids want and need. Anytime we try to do too much structure, they kind of rebel, so we try to give them a little more freedom.”

        The program draws 40 students during the school year. Twenty-five students attend regularly in the summer.

        When Terri Wein drops her 11-year-old daughter off, she knows Rachel's day will be fulfilled with activities.

        “It's like a little college,” the Fairfield woman says. “They have freedom. They really give them space. They ask them, "What do you think about this?' That's important, especially at this age. It's make or break in the fifth and sixth grade.”


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