The celebration was part of the 14th annual “Lights on Afterschool” event, sponsored by the Afterschool Alliance, a national initiative highlighting the benefits of afterschool programs.
“Over 15 million kids in the United States are left at home between the hours of 3 and 6 in the afternoon because their parents are still at work or otherwise unavailable,” said Sheri Smith, afterschool program special services coordinator for SAFE Family Services Center. “This afternoon is about stressing the importance of afterschool programs, because they not only provide a safe place for kids to go, but they help with academic progress, attendance at school and a lot of other aspects.”
Sylacauga’s BRIDGES 21st Century Community Learning Center serves Sylacauga City and Talladega County schools students from grades 2-8, making it “unique in the state because it’s not often that you can cross those lines to serve both systems,” Smith said.
Younger students go to First United Methodist Church and older students go to First Presbyterian Church from 3-5:30 p.m., and on a typical afternoon will participate in a prevention lesson dealing with drugs, alcohol, bullying, etc., homework time and tutoring, character education, and either art, music or technology activities. The grant-funded program partners with a number of community agencies, including FarmLinks, Cheaha Mental Health and B.B. Comer Library, to name a few, to provide for its students.
“We have an outstanding program,” Smith said. “21st Century provides a lot; SAFE has been wonderful to spearhead all of this; and we have a ton of great community partners that provide for us and work with us. It really is a community effort.”
It also acts as a link between the schools and home, with coordinators communicating regularly with teachers about homework and upcoming assignments.
“Every week we know who’s having trouble with something or what assignments are coming up,” said grade 6-8 site supervisor Dorinda Waldrop. “The schools have been really good about communicating with us, because it’s a win-win. Our three biggest goals are improving academics, behavior and attendance, and if we can help the kids here, it’s going to help them at school too.”
Another benefit of BRIDGES, which is open to all children up to 90 participants, is that homework is done by the time parents pick their children up, Waldrop said.
“We’re lucky that all these kids have good parents, but after you’ve worked all day and you still have things to do at home, it’s nice for them to know they can spend some quality time with their kid instead of arguing over doing your math homework,” she said. “That seems to be one of the things parents appreciate the most.”
For more information about BRIDGES, contact SAFE at 256-245-4343.
Contact Emily McLain at email@example.com