Activities enrich minds, while keeping bodies fitSEASIDE - A small, colorful hackey sack leaps from 11-year-old Andrew Noel's foot.

It doesn't go very far, so the sixth-grader picks it up, taps it slightly, and tries again. Beads of sweat form on his brow as he concentrates.

At a nearby table, a group of giggling junior high students string colorful beads onto elastic thread to make toe rings.

It's a normal afternoon at the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District's Broadway After-school program in Broadway Middle School's cafeteria. Along with partner Broadway Middle School and community volunteers, the free program offers a variety of activities for sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Trying carefully to use his toe as a paintbrush, Michael Thompson and other children paint what they might see on an island in the afterschool program Wednesday. Using bright red paint, Thompson paints "a guy that's sunburned."

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian"This is all about our youth and we're really excited about it," said SEPRD Executive Director Mary Blake. "This is a twist in looking at areas that have typically created a challenge in more rural areas. That's our youth. This is after school and there's some real excitement out there."

To participate in an activity during program hours, students must sign in and out and may leave at any time. If a student leaves before the end of the day's activities at 5:30 p.m., they must not hang around the school.

Physical activities like yoga, martial arts and indoor hockey will get the kids moving. Science explorations like rocket launching, observing the sun and recycling will challenge their minds. Performing arts classes such as introduction to guitar, mask making and fabric art will inspire. World culture presentations on Native Americans and Italy will help them understand diversity. And "how-to" clinics like "how to fix your bike" will help the students become more self-sufficient.

Even area businesses are getting involved. Staff members from Encore Dance Studio in Seaside will teach hip hop dance and volunteers from Creative Beginnings in Gearhart will teach weaving.

Many of the activities will be taught by community volunteers.

Seaside resident Sue Kroning is one of six community volunteers who will teach students to play mini-bridge, an easier form of bridge. Bridge can teach basic arithmetic, decision-making, memory development, observation and sportsmanship skills. It's also a very social game.

Mara Gooch, left, is led through an obstacle course by Tiernan Reyneke, center, and Michael Thompson. The 11- and 12-year-olds use skills such as problem solving, trust and communication to complete the blind obstacle course.

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian"It's a wonderful opportunity to form lasting friendships," Kroning said. "It's a great game for parents and grandparents to play with their children."

SEPRD Recreation Program Manager Zoe Manhire is pleased with the community's response to the after-school program.

"I believe that it's everyone's job to care for youth," she said. "There's a lot of people out there doing good things for kids. It was just a matter of getting all the pieces together."

The free program will be funded by $40,000 from SEPRD's general fund, according to Blake. She believes that grants and community partnerships will support those funds in the future.

Broadway partnershipA partnership exists between SEPRD and Broadway Middle School, where the program is located. Although the Seaside School District, like many other Oregon districts, has struggled with budget cuts, Principal Sheila Roley does not see SEPRD's program as a replacement for school activities. Broadway will still offer band, choir, drama and fine arts classes.

"We see it as reinforcement for what we do in school," she said. "We're providing the kids and the space."

One of the ways Manhire will help the students take ownership of the program is to allow them to make activity choices. She has activities planned through December, but will take suggestions from the youth during that time. A group of students will begin to help plan the program activities in January.

"These kids are so eager and they're just starting to discover themselves," Manhire said. "Just give them the attention and opportunity and they will become empowered."

David Willis, a doctor at Legacy Emanuel Children's Hospital in Portland, has conducted research, including brain scans, that shows brain growth in children age 10 to 13 is every bit as active as that in infants to age two, said Clatsop County Juvenile Director Georgia Stewart.

"That's brand-new information and it gives us a second chance to be working with these kids," she said.

Junior high-age students have an incredibly high energy level, a positive outlook on life and are open to learning new things. They are old enough to begin to be engaged in a wonderful, sophisticated learning style.

"Social development is a very important part of the growth at this age," Roley said. "They want to be with their peers and continue building relationships with friends in a positive way. They thrive in supportive environments."

Positive outcomesRoley believes that the timing of the program is important. Many parents do not get home from work until 5 p.m., which leaves the students by themselves for about two hours. The program will help bridge the gap between the end of the school day and when the adults come home.

Research shows that most juvenile crimes happen between the end of the school day and the end of the work day, usually 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. In general, the fastest-growing criminal age group is 10 to 13, Stewart said.

One way to measure the success of the program will be to look at drug and alcohol, vandalism and other juvenile crime citations, Stewart said. She would also be able to use the number of repeat juvenile offenders as a measure of success.

Manhire hopes that the students will see the program activities as "fun" and "cool." But even more importantly, she hopes that it will stop them from making negative choices as a teen-ager and throughout their adult lives.

"When they have to stop and make a choice, they will choose positive activities," she said. "It will be a lifetime decision-making process."

Program transportationQualified families may be eligible for free transportation home from the program, provided by All-Ways Transportation. Transportation request forms will be available at the school office or from any program staff during program hours. Once a transportation request is reviewed and granted, the student must show a student body card to get on the bus.

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