21st Century Program a hit with kids, their parents
by Briana Webster
Aug 04, 2013 | 1689 views | 0 0 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print
During the long and lazy days of summer, parents rack their brains trying to come up with interesting and creative ways of keeping their children busy before school starts back. What if there was a program designed for kids that not only piqued their interests in fine arts and sports, but also enhances their academics and health as well? 

The Jasper City School System is in its third year of hosting the 21st Century Program, which combines learning and fun activities for kids in grades kindergarten through eighth. The year-round program is led by school-certified teachers, but student aides and volunteers help tutor students as well.

Elliot Harris, who is director of auxiliary services for the city school system, is in charge of writing the grant for obtaining the 21st Century Program. He was honored to speak at the “Summer Oasis” event Friday afternoon held at Swann Gymnasium, which is the new location that will house the program.

“There are several different ways this program has helped students academically. Their grades have improved over the course of three years,” Harris said. “It has also helped them learn other things as well.” 

One of the “other things” Harris referred to was a cooking class students participated in where they learned how to cook nutritious meals. Another example he gave was a trip teachers and students went on to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. “It’s that type of awareness that helps these children,” he added.

Harris said there are five goals set for the program: academics, appreciation of the arts, parental involvement, community service and a healthy lifestyle. On Friday, students displayed their art projects, accepted end-of-summer awards and showed off their dance skills in two Zumba Fitness routines. One of the main presentations was when students donated their artwork to Walker Baptist Medical Center’s Anne Allen. The students’ art will hang on the walls of the hospital for patients to view.

Lisa Mellott and Valerie Betts, who are teachers in the city school system, are the two site coordinators over the 21st Century Program. Mellott said they had 87 students enrolled during the summer and bragged on their achievements.

“We’ve had a wonderful group of students this summer, and we’ve had a great summer camp,” Mellott said. “This group of kids has worked so well together.” 

Students work on their academics in the morning.

When students finish their morning work, they get to participate in fun afternoon activities, such as basketball or kickball. Mellott said they take one big field trip during the week. Some of those trips have included a Birmingham Barons baseball game, the McWane Center and the Trussville Play Station.

“Anything fun to encourage the kids to do their work,” she added.

Harris said the program started with about 40 students in the afterschool program and 50 students in the summer program. He said numbers have increased every year since it began, with 65 students at the end of the school year in May and more than 80 this summer.

“My goal is to see 100 children in the summer program and 100 in the afterschool program, too,” Harris said with a smile. “But, we want to make sure the quality stays the same.” 

During the afterschool program, students can be bussed from their school to the gymnasium where they will get a snack, work on homework, study for tests, etc., for an hour or more. Then they receive free time until it’s time to leave at 5:30 p.m. The summer program offers breakfast and lunch; it opens at 7:45 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. every Monday through Friday.

Darlene Spates sat in the audience Friday afternoon watching her granddaughter, DeCaleigh Spates, participate in the day’s activities and receive her award.

“It’s very beneficial because the kids learn, and it’s somewhere for them to go and keep them busy,” Spates said.

“I liked it when we went to the movies and to Birmingham ice skating,” added DeCaleigh with a beaming grin.

Superintendent Robert Sparkman praised Harris and the staff for a job well done. He said he felt privileged to be able to address the program, which he said he loved even before he became superintendent of the Jasper City School System.

“We’re going to help our kids be better students next year. We’re providing experienced professionals to teach them, and we’re fortunate enough to receive a grant for this,” Sparkman said. “I want to say thank you for enrolling your kids in this program.”