Extra curricular delay: After-school programs at Bennett get underway

Buses unlaod at Bennett, in a past year. (photo by Beth Blis)

After-school programs created as part of the new Bennett Elementary grades four-through-six configuration were met with such unexpected overwhelming popularity that they had to be temporarily shut until problems with transportation could be resolved.

The problem, according to Bennett Principal Gabriel Buono, is that students at the Middle/High School who stay after school are transported to stopping points instead of nearest to their home — either at local elementary schools, firehouses or points along main routes.

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“We can’t run it the way the Middle/High School does, it’s just not age appropriate,” said Buono, who once worked as an Assistant Principal at the High School in Boiceville. “We have eight year olds who are being dropped off, in some cases a mile away from home, so we needed to provide extra care in safety.”

To better inform parents, Buono said, Bennett bus passes were distributed with information of where stops and pick-ups would be for each child. Approximately 150 elementary aged students — around half of the student population at Bennett — signed up to participate in afterschool activities and Buono was unsure if parents knew of the drop off points.

Letters were sent to parents asking for patience, but the after-school events were delayed also because Buono wanted to ensure every child got on the correct bus and that parents were aware of stopping points.

In the past, Bennett Elementary educated grades K-6, but only those from the Olive and immediate surrounding area served by the district. It then offered after-school homework help and for transportation home, a single bus would pick up High Schoolers followed by Bennett students. But currently there are five buses for Bennett, as the grades 4-6 students come from all parts of the district.

Buono said that once every parent was contacted, the programs that were initially slated to begin September 10, were able to start a week later, on September 18. On the first day there was a problem transporting two students. “Two out of 150 is a good ratio, but we’re aiming to have zero issues,” said Buono. As the week passed, each day had a new program with a new set of children, but all has settled and is running smoothly.

The after-school programs hold 150 students, but more have signed up creating a waiting list. There is a five week rotation schedule so all children who signed up will have a chance to participate. After-school classes include science, art, gardening and music. Art, the most popular, has a variety of classes including jewelry making, watercolor, sculpture and piñata making. Music includes guitar lessons, jazz and jam band. Physical education also offers a variety of classes on a rotation schedule. Buono pointed out homework help is always available and open to all.

Buono said he is “thrilled,” that children want to participate and that students were given a survey on what they would like to have in future programs. “I’m grateful, because it’s what I want kids to have, more learning time and socialization…it means they watch less TV.” A Rosetta Stone language program is the only course offered in the mornings before school. Buono said he would like to add more extra curricular programs and the PTA has approached him with a possible yoga class, but that there are costs involved primarily with transportation. At this point Buono said he is a little “overwhelmed,” and will allow the system in place to settle before expanding and with budget constraints that may not be possible.

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