Since 2009, Access AfterSchool has been providing valley middle schoolers with a captivating array of enriching after-school activities.
For only $2.50 per class, students can spend up to three afternoons per week engaging in instructor-led activities with their peers. While the offerings are always changing in response to feedback, past programs have included outdoor survival, cooking, fly fishing, mountain biking, astronomy, robotics, architecture, fashion design, sewing, skateboard building, foreign language learning, unicycling and track, to name a smattering.
Next week, SecondShift — the name for the middle school afterschool program — will begin the first of ten weekly sessions that run through the fall/winter semester. They will run again in the spring semester, as well. Each activity rakes place directly after school for approximately an hour and a half. Most activities provide all the tools needed.
About half of the instructors are teachers, while the other half are sourced from affiliate organizations throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. The low student-to-instructor ratio (seven to one, on average) means kids receive significant individual attention. This year, Access expanded to Ross Montessori and Riverview, adding them to a list that includes Basalt, Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Riverside middle schools.
Access AfterSchool is an independent non-profit that is not formally affiliated with the schools, but works closely with them “to fill in the gaps,” according to the organization’s Executive Director, Deborah Rice.
“Access works as an umbrella organization to coordinate a system of opportunities and resources throughout the region,” she wrote in a grant application. “In keeping with emerging needs, Access’ staff meets with superintendents, principals and teachers, listening and addressing needs by filling gaps in programs that schools are no longer able to provide.”
The results have been overwhelmingly positive. Instead of leaving middle schoolers with idle time in the late afternoon when parents are typically not yet home from work, SecondShift brings them together for goal-driven, skills-enhancing activities. And the students seem to love it. Activities boast an 86 percent attendance rate. “We enrich the lives of youth, support working families and build healthy communities,” said Rice. “Students feel a sense of belonging to their school because they’ve found other kids with like interests.”
Student and parent satisfaction is extremely high, with surveys showing “that youth participants: received high-quality programming, demonstrated improved social-emotional health, were more active and physically healthy, built positive relationships with adult mentors and diverse peers and were prepared for future success.”
Interestingly, juvenile arrest rates in Garfield County have decreased by 70 percent since the program’s inception. Data show that juveniles are far more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behavior or illicit activity — both violent crime and substance abuse — or be involved in a car crash during the hours after school if they are left to their own devices. The SecondShift program provides supervision and structure during that critical time period, while also helping students apply what they learn in the classroom to engaging real-life endeavors. Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky attributes Access’ preventive programs as a direct factor in reducing costs incurred by health and human services.
In addition to these core community benefits, the program also represents a welcome secondary income stream for teachers and non-profit employees, who rely on the additional revenue to offset the high cost of living. Another ripple effect is a reduction in workplace stress, because parents do not have to worry about their kids’ whereabouts and activities before they can pick them up after work.
Registration for Access AfterSchool’s SecondShift program is currently open. Activities have open registration until they are full. Participation is not limited to attendance at a specific school— all children are welcome as long as they are age-appropriate. Students and parents can read descriptions for classes and sign up at accessroaringfork.org. Individuals interested in supporting the program may also make donations from the website.