Beyond study hall
As many students assembled at Lyman Gilmore Middle School will tell you, doing homework after school can actually be cool.
Just ask Charles Larkin, a 13-year-old Gilmore student enjoying the superfast computers and quiet environment of a study hall of his peers.
“I come in here, do my homework, get it done, and get good grades,” he said Thursday while watching a music video with his friends.
The computers, foosball and ping-pong tables, and arts/crafts room at Gilmore comprise the hub of GASP, or the Gilmore After School Program, run by the Grass Valley School District.
On a typical day, as many as 200 students attend the program, which offers tutoring, a homework study hall, classes in drama, dance, disc golf, rock climbing and Gilmore’s “world famous” ropes course, said Kendra Williams, the program’s director.
The program requires a $25 membership fee and is open to all students in grades 3-8 who attend Grass Valley schools.
It is funded by a $120,000 federal grant.
Williams said the program is more than a simple way to keep students out of trouble between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m., seen by many educators as a time in which most teens and adolescents find themselves in trouble.
Williams scampers around each classroom, chatting with students, breaking up arguments and occasionally grabbing a paddle to play ping pong.
“I love working with kids and helping them become someone,” she said. “If we can provide a peer group for them during their transition to adulthood,” she said, “we’ve accomplished a great deal.
“Adolescence is the time between puberty and economic independence, and a peer group helps these students bridge that gap.”
The after-school program is open to more than 600 students districtwide, at both Scotten and Lyman Gilmore.
The grant is especially crucial this year, as it is due to expire at the end of the year.
“It would be a disgrace and a huge loss” if the program disappeared, said staff member Tom O’Brien, 19.
Williams said she’s hopeful Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will realize the value of the program. Class members wrote the governor a welcome letter upon his election to the state’s top elected post. They’ve also won honors for a reproduced painting students completed last year of an Afghani woman photographed for National Geographic Magazine almost two decades ago.
At Gilmore, it’s a bustle of activity as students are gently reminded to “use your imagination” as they work on their projects.
Derek Hanson, a Lyman Gilmore eighth-grader, said he’s there every day “just so I can get my homework done and hang out with my friends. There’s less distractions here – no TV, no video games.”
Coming to the after-school program makes school fun and has improved Charles Larkin’s academic standing, he said.
“I come here, do my homework, get it done, and get good grades,” he said. “Before I started here, I was an F student. Now I make A’s
Studying at school helped Chris Michalski pass Gilmore’s Constitution test, a must for all those entering high school.
It’s not all work, sixth-grader Bonnie Mortensen added.
“The teachers are great, and there’s plenty of friends to make here,” she said.
In these students, O’Brien said, he has discovered a wealth of knowledge and determination to succeed.
“It’s sometimes hard to control 30 kids, but they’re pretty good. I get to spend a lot of time with them. The first 45 minutes, I crack the whip. The rest of the time, I’m just out here having fun.”
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