Kids have fun, learn with All In program
By Kaitlin Servant
Citizen Chronicle Writer
SOUTHBRIDGE — “All In” is a relatively new after-school program for children in Grades 2-5 that takes place at West Street Elementary School five days a week from 3 to 5:30 p.m. The program is a multiorganization collaboration among the school, the Town’s Recreation Department, the Worcester-based group Our Brighter Future, and the Tri-Community YMCA Teen Leaders.
All In provides elementary school students in Southbridge with a safe and fun space to complete homework, socialize and participate in arts and crafts, physical fitness activities, innovation projects, and games.
Monday’s activities included a visit from Tom “Satch” Sanders, a legendary Boston Celtics power forward. Sanders spent his entire NBA career with the Celtics, from 1960 to 1973, winning eight championships over that time. His uniform No. 16 was officially retired by the Celtics in 1973.
On a recent afternoon, the students and volunteers finished up a game of dodgeball in the gymnasium and made their way down to the library where some started on their homework, while others chose to draw or read books. At some tables, students worked independently. At others, volunteers assisted students with math and English assignments.
Southbridge Recreation Director Steven Roenfeldt is very proud of the program. Particularly the fact that it was created by and is operated by community volunteers. Roenfeldt himself volunteers some of his time to the program since his position as Recreation Director is only part time. Southbridge Recreation was already quite active with other events and activities. Adding a program has been a challenge between being there to facilitate activities and coordinating a volunteer schedule but Roenfeldt felt strongly that the program was needed and would be good for the community.
“I’m grateful we have been able to find other members of the community who feel passionate about this and helping the students in our community,” Roenfeldt said.
Lisi Velez is one of those volunteers. Velez is a real estate agent and Southbridge resident who volunteers at the All In program one afternoon a week.
“Being part of the real estate industry, I hear a lot of negativity about the town and the school system from people who don’t live here. But I know there is a lot of good here and I wanted to give back.”
Velez says she enjoys tutoring the students and helping them with their homework. Born and raised in Southbridge, she attended college in Arizona where she tutored students through the organization America Reads America Counts. Now that she is living back in Southbridge she wants to use her skills to help students in her hometown.
Pedro Aponte, not only volunteers his time every week, he is part of the reason the program exists at all. Last summer, the father of three, attended a Recreation Committee meeting to propose his idea of an afterschool program to Roenfeldt. It was around that same time that Kwasi Acheampong of Our Brighter Future, had approached the town about starting an afterschool program as well. The timing was right since no single group was capable of pulling off a five day a week program on their own.
With the right people involved and commitments from Our Brighter Future to provide programming on Mondays and Wednesdays, the Recreation Department’s commitment to facilitate on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the YMCA Teen Leaders stepping in on Fridays, things came together very quickly. The school agreed to provide a physical location, busing from Charlton Street Elementary and student registration.
“I was actually really surprised at how quickly everything came together,” Aponte said. “Once we knew it was going to become a reality we didn’t have a lot of time to pull everything together. But I was really happy to be involved from the beginning and now that I get to see the positive impact it’s having on kids it has been a really amazing experience.”
Despite launching in the middle of the school system’s first semester, they received a lot of applications. The decision was made to cap the program at 50 students for the first year but they have many families on a waiting list so they know the demand is there and they hope to be able to accommodate more students next year.
Parents are pleased with the program because there are limited options for childcare after school and that is a pressure point for most working families. Kristy Synnott sends her son fifth grade son to All In on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“It helps us because Noah gets his homework done in an environment where everyone is working at the same time with the goal of being able to play after,” Synnot said. “It also helps us manage our time as we both work in school systems and picking him up at 2:40 can be challenging if things come up at our schools.”
This is one of the problems the program was created to solve. Aponte, who was a catalyst for starting All In, says “I wanted to have a something that kids could look forward to at the end of the day. Many parents work long hours and aren’t always available to help with homework at the end of the day. Or they have multiple children and it just isn’t possible to give them one on one attention.
Synnott’s son Noah is also a fan of the program.
“I like being able to finish my homework before I get home and I like being around other kids here,” the younger Synnott said. “We do really, really educational stuff and learn a lot.”
One of The activities he particularly enjoyed was Light Painting. The students were able to witness a high speed camera to catch the image of a moving flash of light
The program fills a need in the community and Ronenfeldt believes it will continue to grow and get stronger.
“There are always kinks with a new program. Especially one that involves four organizations coordinating with each other and launching something from scratch very quickly. But we were able to get it done and none of us would have had the resources to do it alone,” Roenfeldt added.
In order for the program to continue and to grow, it will require more community involvement. If you are interested in getting involved, you can find out more on the Recreation Department page or email All-In@southbridgepublic.org.