BRISTOL — What’s got students at Bristol Elementary School staying after class for hours each day?
The answer lies in just four letters: B-A-S-K.
This fall, the two-decade-old Bristol After School Kids program, known locally as BASK, received a 21st century makeover. New workshops like acoustic guitar lessons, yoga and tech club are getting kids involved and excited about the program that has been ramped up thanks to a five-year, 21st Century Learning grant that Bristol Elementary was awarded this school year.
The first $97,000 installment of the grant is helping fund this year’s programs, which in conjunction with the Mary Johnson Children’s Center in Middlebury provides students at Bristol Elementary with after school care and enrichment classes.
To head up the new programming, the school hired Kate LaRiviere, who teaches at the school during the day. LaRiviere has used her background in public relations and marketing to help sell the new workshops to the students — and so far, they’re eating them up, she says.
“The original model that was in place was a basic after-school program that provided neat programming and access to some of the stuff that we’re doing but not at the level that the grant has brought us,” LaRiviere said. “The baselines for this are the same. We’re all about providing a healthy and safe environment for the kiddos. The neat thing about this is that the kids are informing what is happening after school. It’s me saying, ‘Hey, wouldn’t this be cool,’ and the kids saying, ‘You know what we should have after school ...’”
LaRiviere began planning the first cycle of workshops in August and kicked off the new programming in October with a series of after-school activities that would provide academic support and enrichment for the students.
“I thought, ‘Maybe if we do trimesters, we can do three different things,’ and I landed on ‘Mind, Body, Soul,’” LaRiviere said. “Fall was ‘The Mind,’ and it was all about getting back into the swing of the school year after summer. We wanted to blur the lines between academics and enrichment and have both in one workshop. It was like we were disguising the vegetables in a really good mac and cheese.”
Following “The Mind,” the winter cycle focuses on “The Body,” and encourages kids to get up and move around. In the “Sheep to Shawl” workshop, fabric artist Lynn Stewart-Parker leads fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in carding, spinning, dyeing, weaving and knitting wool. “Moving Together,” led by YogaKids teacher Melanie Cote and outdoor educator Warren Dixon, combines yoga poses and team-building activities to “promote problem solving, building confidence and improve group relations.”
The leaders of the program are a combination of Bristol Elementary staff and members of the larger community.
“I hadn’t been working in Bristol for too, too long and my Rolodex was a bit sparse, so I appealed to people here,” LaRiviere said. “I started asking people, ‘Do you anybody who does anything interesting?’ We do have a few teachers who teach during the day and then after school — either academic workshop or tutoring or something they are passionate about on their own. We have parents and community volunteers as well. For the winter cycle, we have even more community volunteers who have heard about us in one way or another.”
LaRiviere is actively looking to form partnerships with members of the community in order to make the 21st Century BASK program self-sustainable.
“We do have funding for the next four-and-a-half years, but the goal of the grant is not to fund us forever — it’s going to gradually decrease,” LaRiviere said. “As the years go by we need to find ways to become self-sustaining. The grant is really just seed money. Our plan is to make partnerships and get a lot of people on board and get interest from the community and turn this into a neat operation.”
LaRiviere has recruited Middlebury College students to take part in academic coaching sessions for the winter cycle in addition to other community members, like master gardener Marijke Niles, owner and operator of Marijke’s Perennial Gardens on Starksboro’s Robert Young Road. Starting in a couple of weeks, Niles will be teaching kindergarteners and first- and second-graders how to compost with worms and make bird baths and mini winter gardens.
“It’s really neat to think that we’ll be creating junior naturalists starting now,” LaRiviere said.
The new and improved BASK is also encouraging students to build their own after-school curriculums. According to LaRiviere, a group of fifth- and sixth-grade girls recently asked if they could form a dance club, of which both LaRiviere and Bristol Elementary Principal Catrina DiNapoli are in full support.
“The 21st Century environment is an invigorating one that kind of opened the doors for that,” LaRiviere said. “To me, it’s more student-driven than our original program was.”
ACCESS FOR ALL KIDS
In addition to the extensive range of workshops, the grant has also provided funding for a scholarship program that will allow every student at the school access to the after-school activities.
“I think a difference that has been made with this grant is that it has really made it accessible to every kid in this building,” LaRiviere said. “We have a sliding fee scale, which has allowed us to give scholarships and really help out families who might not have been able to afford things like guitar lessons, because it’s expensive to do these activities. Now, it’s accessible to everybody.”
And according to LaRiviere, families and students are taking advantage of the opportunity — half the school is currently registered to participate in BASK workshops.
In addition to scholarships, the grant money has also allowed BASK to provide free bus transportation to any student that needs it.
“We have transportation, which is such a huge component for families when they’re juggling schedules and have one car or no car,” LaRiviere said. “It used to be that they just couldn’t do certain activities. But now we’ve got a bus that will bring anybody home that needs it. It’s something that we didn’t have in place before.”
With one successful cycle of workshops already under her belt and the second cycle just kicking into gear, LaRiviere is looking to the future of 21st Century BASK and ways to ensure that it will stick around for years to come.
“It’s all how we expand our interest and get out into the community,” she said. “We’re working with Middlebury College and I just made an arrangement with Therapy Dogs of Vermont — all of these little linkages that help us really secure ourselves as an entity so that we stand out as a destination and a community center. ‘Bristol Elementary Plus.’”
Tamara Hilmes is at email@example.com.