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Growing Twenty-First Century Program Offers a Safe and Enriching Environment for Students

Operating under the motto, ‘You Walk in and the Adventure Begins,’ the before and after school 21st Century program is growing at all three elementary schools.  “The program focuses on the social, emotional and intellectual needs of our students,” Program Lead and Principal at Mary L. Tracy School Tricia Lasto explains.  She presented to the Board of Education at its January meeting.

After arrival once school is dismissed, students are fed a snack, then students will participate in Homework Club and other activities such as STEAM, which incorporates science, technology, engineering, art and math; and physical activity in the school gym.  “They’ve been in school all day and we want to honor that and their developmental needs.  We focus on ‘stealth learning,’ but we don’t forget about the physical activities that students require,” Lasto says.

Students then have some technology time, peer-to-peer interactions and work on problem-solving and other skills.  They can also practice cooking and do arts and crafts.  “They also participate in a lot of community events.  Right now, they’re decorating the community center for the holidays.  There are a lot of ways that we partner with the town,” she says.

This school year, the program has added 144 seats, which is the number of students seen each week for the morning and afternoon sessions.  Last year, roughly 130 seats were added across the district.  “We’re hoping to grow more.  We have room and want to welcome people in.  Even though we are growing, we’re continuing to offer the services at the quality level that we want,” Lasto says.

Homework Club is run by certified teachers who know the curriculum and the resources that are used in the classroom, who know the strategies and the types of learning that can continue from school to after school with a seamless transition.  “We continue to have teachers who are willing and want to be involved in the program.  Teambuilding is so important and so is having students see their teachers in a different setting.  It’s really encouraging that more and more teachers are seeking us out, when we used to seek them out,” Lasto says.

“The ‘stealth learning,’ we try to make it be fun, be educational, be cutting-edge and have the students not really know that they’re learning,” she says.

The program is in constant growth mode, with leadership continuously looking at other programs and ways to enrich and grow.  Lasto wants to improve, not just to improve, but for something that will make a difference and be impactful and meaningful to the students.

After a brief description of the program to the board, Lasto turned it over to students who demonstrated LEGO Robotics that they’ve been working on at the after-school program.  “Tonight I wanted to show.  I’ll turn it over to the students to show you and bring to life some of the things that we’re doing at the 21st Century program,” Lasto says.

This year students from the three elementary schools went to Race Brook School weekly to participate in a competitive LEGO Robotics team.  At the Board of Ed meeting, six students worked together on the boardroom floor to demonstrate one of a series of missions they performed at competition.

“It is very impressive, the amount of work that you put into your research, programming, building and the teamwork that I’ve been seeing along with the support from everyone, which is also a huge component,” Lasto says.

By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent

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