Orange Schools’ 21st Century before- and after-school program has a new look this school year. In July, Peck Place School teacher Tricia Lasto assumed the role of leading the program and she says she has really enjoyed the faith that administrators and staff have put into her willingness to rebuild the program.
“I enjoyed getting to know 21st Century,” she said. “I thought I knew a lot about it and had a great vision of it, but it was really being there and seeing it work, and being there every day that made me understand.”
To begin, she met with those involved with the program, updated policies and protocols and went to visit other school districts with a 21st Century program. The program is run before school from 7 a.m. until school starts and when the school day ends, into the evening.
“We work on the social, emotional and intellectual needs of our students,” Lasto said. On a typical day, the students arrive, chat with instructors, and have a snack. “We offer them physical activity every day, indoors or outside, making sure they can still run and play and be children after school.
“We have technology time and we have peer interactions, which is really important. With all of the technology we have in the world, it is really important to have peer-to-peer interactions. That interaction is also important with staff,” Lasto says. Every day there are choice activities for the students such as clubs for knitting and baking that are embedded in the program.
“We also talk about community outreach and support. This is done in two ways: in our own Orange community, working with the principals in each school, decorating the cafeteria for certain events, or helping the PTO do certain things. We are part of the Orange school community, but also the Orange community, where we do things like bake cookies and make cards for veterans and doing things with the nursing homes in the area ― really trying to stay connected.”
This year, 261 students at the three elementary schools participate in the 21st Century program: 100 at Peck Place, 110 at Race Brook and 48 at Turkey Hill.
The Homework Club that had been phased out of the program is back, ‘better than ever,’ according to Lasto. “We have Orange teachers doing the homework club, which is invaluable. They know the curriculum and the content, they know the strategies that students are learning in the classroom and that then carries over to the after-school program,” she said. Kindergarten through third grade students work together as fourth through sixth grade students work together separately. For Reading Buddies, older students are paired with younger students, in yet another attempt to make a connection with their peers.
Overall, the 21st Century program has an embedded stealth learning component, where, as Lasto says, students are learning without realizing they’re learning. “The students are having a great time, learning about science, technology, engineering, arts and math,” she said. “We’re bringing technology such as robotics to the program, that every student who comes through will be able to use and learn from.”
She presented her work to the Orange Board of Education at its February meeting, where Chairman Bill Kraut thanked the ad hoc committee for getting the changes in motion over a year ago. “I never in my wildest dreams thought that you all could have accomplished this,” he said. “You guys have really stepped up 21st Century and brought it forward a lot faster than I thought. It’s in a great place and I know it’s going to keep getting better.”
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent