Middle school students gain Access to their passions | PostIndependent.com

Middle school students gain Access to their passions

Savannah Kelley
Post Independent correspondent
Beth Wysong, right, executive director of the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program, shows SecondShift students how to do radio broadcasting.
Provided |

The Access After School Program began in 2009 when the need for after-school activities for kids became apparent. Since then, students from the Roaring Fork Re-1 and Garfield Re-2 school districts have participated in the SecondShift enrichment offerings.

“It started as a tech class after school,” Program Director Mindi Cabe said. “It quickly became clear that middle schoolers needed to have positive experiences after school.”

This program offers hour-and-a-half-long after-school classes for middle-schoolers three days a week for 10 weeks during both the fall and spring semesters.

“The classes can be anything from cooking to sports, robotics, knitting, just anything,” Cabe said.

About 200 students at Rifle Middle School partake in the after school programs offered through Access.

“For the kids where sports isn’t their niche, they can find a niche and enjoy it,” Rifle Middle School Principal Jenny Nipper said. “Any connections kids can have to another adult and activity is a positive one.”

A majority of the teachers involved come from inside the schools, but community volunteers are also recruited to teach the middle- schoolers about their passions.

“We have a very low ratio of 1 to 10,” Access After School Executive Director Deb Rice said. “Kids can have that experience of one on one with the instructor and other kids. It creates that opportunity to have positive relationships with their peers and instructors.”

In all, the program hires about 180 instructors a year.

“From the community we have a former chef teaching an international cooking class in Rifle,” Cabe said. “There’s a volunteer from Trout Unlimited teaching a fly fishing class in Glenwood Middle and the Aspen Art Museum is doing an art class at the Basalt Middle School.”

Aside from the SecondShift enrichment program, Access After School also offers a program called Accelerate (XLR8). Extra academic help is offered to participating students by providing extra tutoring both in and out of school. The program helps students to develop helpful academic and social habits, while also assisting them in reaching proficiency.

“By kids being involved in an after-school program, it helps connect them to what they learned during the day,” Rice said. “It stimulates a different environment for the kids to be successful in.”

The after-school programs also help kids make friends who have the same interests as them.

“A fifth-grader might not ever really interact with an eighth-grader in the school day,” Cabe said. “But they might both really love robotics, so they’re on the robotics team together and become friends.”

While cultivating the interests and passions of the students, SecondShift and XLR8 also encourage students to stay in school and out of trouble.

“Access is viewed as a preventative service,” Rice said. “It helps eliminate other health and services. We try to focus on safety and issues like juvenile arrest rate and teen pregnancy.”

One of the main goals of the program is to provide a safe environment for students of working families to go until their parents come home.

“For our adolescents, there are a lot of dark, sad things available,” Nipper said. “The things that kids have access to and the way that their brains are changed because of technology, is very different. I think that makes their world extra challenging.”

The overall attendance rate for the programs is around 90 percent or above, and the school attendance rates for students involved in the Access programming has also increased. About 95 percent of students who participate in SecondShift say that it’s their favorite part of the school day.

Access also offers a program called BoostCamp for elementary-aged children during the summer at Rifle Middle School. Similar to the other Access programs, academics, enrichment and life-skills are all taught to the students who choose to participate.

In total, Access After School works with about 1,400 children per year with the number continuing to increase.

The nonprofit organization receives its funding from donations from organizations, foundations and community contributions, as well as government funding.

“It’s a strong belief that we want to maximize the resources that we can give to the programs and to the teachers and to the kids,” Cabe said.

The next sessions for SecondShift and XLR8 begin this week. For more information, to register for a session, or to donate to the program, visit http://www.accessafterschool.org.