Fifth-day options for kids still going strong

Sean C. Morgan

Three local organizations are continuing to offer activities to students on Fridays, and School District 55 will soon open up an opportunity for students to get help with their school work on Fridays.

Those were among the reports given at Thursday, Dec. 6, during a “Day 5 Enrichment” follow-up meeting held at the Sweet Home police station community room.

Eight representatives of local organizations gathered to discuss how Fridays are going this year and update each other on their activities. The group met before the start of the school year to plan Friday “Day Five Enrichment” activities for District 55 students.

District 55 reduced the school week to four days this year. Students have most Fridays off from school. They attend school on Fridays when holidays close schools on Mondays.

School District

“We’re right now in the process of starting what we call Student Resource Centers on Fridays,” said District 55 Business Manager Kevin Strong. The Resource Centers provide one more option for students on Fridays. The Sweet Home High School center opens on Jan. 11, and the other schools open theirs on Jan. 18.

The centers will provide an opportunity for students to get caught up on homework and get organized to be more successful in class, Strong said. High school students will be able to access online projects as well.

Each school will set its own times, Strong said, and they’re still working out details. Information will be posted on the district’s website,

Boys and Girls Club

The Boys and Girls Club program is now free, with the program covered by a recent grant.

“I’m feeling really good about our Fridays,” said Andi Casteel, Boys and Girls Club Sweet Home Branch director.

The program is drawing 10 to 25 children in the morning and 40 to 45 in the afternoon, Casteel said.

“Initially, we hoped for certified (teacher) volunteers, but that isn’t working into their schedules,” Casteel said.

District 55 Supt. Don Schrader has visited the club with science activities.

The club has been offering instruction in special skills, taught by current staff members and members of the community, Casteel said. The club has had drama almost every week, and the students have worked on fine art and cooking, with ingredients right out of the club’s garden.

The club is also bringing technology to students, she said, and last week it secured a grant to help purchase Lego robotics gear. Youngsters will be working on movies, digital photography and claymation too.

Working with computers, students will start out learning Internet safety and move on to using the Internet, Casteel said.

“I’m so stoked,” she said. “I’m still beaming. It just opens up so many possibilities. I want kids to see what’s possible out there.”

The High School Chess Club has been visiting the club every other Friday, she said, and that’s attracting interest.

“This last week, we got some really big grants,” Casteel said. One, from the Oregon Community Foundation, focuses on the Friday activities.

“It’s going to completely go toward materials we’re going to need,” Casteel said. “We’re going to have a great big sculpting lesson. I couldn’t have afforded the sculpting materials.”

The club is shifting focus a bit, Casteel said. It had been focusing on academics, but it’s not attractive to kids.

“They want fun,” Casteel said. There will still be academic enrichment every Friday, but the club is planning to up the “fun” factor.

“Once you get them in the door, it’s a good time,” she said.

Sweet Home Economic Development Group Economic Development Director Brian Hoffman agreed with the Boys and Girls Club’s decision to focus on fun.

“It can’t all be education,” he said. “They’ll lose interest.”

He told the group he thought it needed an inventory of what the students are doing.

Activities like the robotics, while fun, can encourage children to learn, perhaps to pursue engineering, for example, Casteel said. “I feel we’re planting the seed.”

Based on the Oregon Community Foundation grant, starting last Friday, the club stopped charging the $5 fee for Friday activities, Casteel said. The club also provides free breakfast and lunch through the School District’s food service program.

Call the club at (541) 367-6421 for more information.

Sweet Home Public Library

“October was a good month,” said Sweet Home Public Library Director Rose Peda. “We had a lot of kids come through.”

The “Avengers” movie night was a hit, and a copy of the movie was given away, she said. The library has had Lego events, with children building a park with office buildings and a school. Peda said she had to keep expanding the tables to make room.

December’s other events include board games on Dec. 14 and craft day on Dec. 21 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., she said. “The Big Miracle” is scheduled for movie night, 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 27.

For information, call the library at (541) 367-5007.

Little Promises Childcare

“To start on a negative, transportation is a big issue,” said Anita Hutchins of Little Promises, which has been drawing 18 to 30 students.

Children attending the Little Promises programs also receive free breakfast and lunch through the school district food services program.

The Little Promises program costs $10 per week, and students have participated in activities related to Oregon Trail history, Hutchins said. They just finished a popular archery program taught by expert Susie Burns. The response to the archery was so big, Hutchins is planning to do it again some time in the spring.

For more information, call Little Promises at (541) 367-4350.

Jo Ann McQueary noted that she has seen plenty of leadership students volunteering at Sweet Home Emergency Ministries.

Other youngsters are busy skating, Strong said, based on what he hears from inside his office, across the parking lot from the skate park.

Some parents are hiring high school students to watch their younger children, Peda said.

“I think families are relying on families,” Casteel said, to watch younger students while parents are at work.

Other activities include $3 swims at the high school pool on Fridays.

Plans to develop entrepreneurial programs with the Chamber of Commerce haven’t come to fruition yet.

“I think there the interest is there,” Hoffman said.

Sixth- and seventh-graders may have the chance at the Boys and Girls Club, Casteel said, and if that takes off, it may be able to redevelop its Keystone Club.

Representatives of the organizations expressed concerns about how homelessness may be affecting participation. Some 10.3 percent of Sweet Home’s students are homeless, according to Oregon Department of Education figures and definitions (see page 1).

Challenges include transportation and publicity, Hoffman said. He asked how the group might deal with them.

Strong discussed posting activity schedules on the district’s website, and the group discussed possible arrangements that might be made with the local bus service provided by the Sweet Home Senior Center.