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YMCA's After-School Program Begins This Fall at Witherspoon

Candace Braun

Sports, tutoring, tap dance classes and a fashion and design history course will all be offered as part of a new after-school program for students that will begin October 3 at John Witherspoon Middle School.

The Princeton Family YMCA and the Princeton Regional Schools have joined forces to provide classes and activities for children between the hours of 3:15 and 6 p.m. The program consists of four 10-week modules that are open to all students attending the middle school. Classes will be held every day that school is in session and will be staffed by both middle school teachers and experienced YMCA staff members.

The program was initiated because there was a need in the community that had to be met, according to Helen Dao, director of operations at the Princeton YMCA.

A YMCA report shows that students in the U.S. are three times more likely to use drugs and alcohol and engage in sex when they're left to their own devices once school lets out. Approximately 80 percent of teen pregnancies result from sexual activity between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m., according to Michelle Reide, marketing and communications associate for the Princeton YMCA.

The YMCA wants to provide students with an opportunity to grow, while offering parents a way to keep their kids out of trouble, said Ms. Reide.

The classes were designed to build self-esteem and self-reliance; develop values for daily living; improve personal and family relations by encouraging caring, communication, and cooperation; develop leadership skills; and teach appreciation and respect for people of all ages, races, and cultures.

Discussions to implement the program began earlier this year when the district applied for a grant to fund "NJ After 3," an after-school program that was initiated in 2004 by then Gov. James McGreevey. When Princeton was denied the funding, the YMCA decided to move forward anyway.

"We have such a passion and commitment to young people that we wanted to go ahead and make this program happen," said Ms. Dao, noting while it will come at a cost, the YMCA has secured $15,000 in scholarships for families who want to send their children but don't have the money. If each child is funded 50 percent, the scholarships will help pay for 55 children, said Richard Smith, chief executive officer of the YMCA.

Eventually the YMCA would like that amount to double, but it "needs more community support to make that happen," said Ms. Dao.

"Students are very eager and are looking forward to starting," she added, noting that parents have heard about the program through word-of-mouth and have already stopped by the YMCA to inquire about how to enroll. The YMCA is looking to have an attendance of 35 students per module, which they hope will increase over time.

"I'm very excited about it," said Superintendent Judy Wilson, who has a 12-year-old son in middle school. "I know how it feels to want to let your child feel independent, but also want him to engage in enriching after-school activities."

Bill Johnson, long-time principal at John Witherspoon, had a key role in implementing the program this year, said Mr. Smith: "We couldn't have done this without him. He recognizes the issues and wants to help make this possible."

Classes For Students

Classes, which will be offered twice a week, will cost between $175 and $200. Students also have the option to enroll for one module at a cost of $590 to attend three to five times per week, or $350 to attend two days weekly. There is also the opportunity to pay per day, at a cost of $105.

Among the courses offered are ones on science exploration and the environment, along with classes in ceramics, visual arts, and cuisine. Adventure biking, aqua sports, and crew are other programs in which students can participate.

One program the YMCA is particularly excited to bring to the middle school is "Rhythm of the World," where students will learn about different cultures through dance, in collaboration with various dance groups at Princeton University.

While still in its final planning stages, the YMCA is also looking to bring members of the Arts Council of Princeton to teach classes.

"When I think about this program, I think about how much passion the Y has for enriching the children in our community," said Ms. Dao. "The Y thinks of the children as our future, and we want to nurture them through this."

To enroll in the after-school program at John Witherspoon Middle School, stop by the Princeton Family YMCA, located at 59 Paul Robeson Place, or call (609) 497-9622, ext. 204. Information on the program can also be found by visiting www.princetonymca.org.

Applications for scholarships may also be obtained at the YMCA.


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