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Partnership offers students after-school activities

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Jaylon Evans lifted his eyes from the pages of Geronimo Stilton's book "Merry Christmas Geronimo!" only occasionally as he walked across Riverdale Elementary School's gymnasium to the Boys & Girls Club's snack line.

The school, home to Clayton County's first year-round Boys & Girls Club, has an initiative where every student is required to take a book home to read at the end of every school day. Since the Boys & Girls Club is functioning as a partner with the school, students are required to read books during their first hour under the youth organization's watch each day.

As Evans, 7, a second-grader at Riverdale Elementary School, marched down the snack line, he rarely broke from the reading theme. He kept his eyes down and his face buried in his book, only pausing from his reading to accept a container of juice from a Boys & Girls Club employee.

"I like reading because I learn the new words that are in the story," Evans said later. "At the Boys & Girls Club, we have lots of fun, and we get to learn a lot of new stuff."

Officials from the Boys & Girls Club will host an open house today, from 4 to 6:30 p.m., at Riverdale Elementary School, 6630 Camp Street, Riverdale, to give parents and their children an opportunity to see what services are offered at the club. The club opened March 9 at the school, as part of the "Clubs in Schools" initiative.

The Riverdale Elementary School location is only open to students at the school between the ages of 6 and 10, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta Regional Vice-President Lisa Eaves said. The annual cost of membership is $35 per child, Eaves added. The club is open from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m., during the school year, and from 8 a.m., to 6 p.m., during an eight-week summer program.

The "Clubs in Schools" initiative is designed to put Boys & Girls Clubs in local schools to help the schools improve student achievement, attendance, and behavior, and increase parental involvement, Eaves said. The club hires four teachers from the school to tutor students because the teachers are familiar with the Georgia Performance Standards.

"If their [school officials] goal is to get a certain amount of students to pass the CRCT [Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests], then that's our goal as well," Eaves said. "It's a collaboration between the Boys & Girls Club and the school."

Riverdale Elementary School Principal April Madden said, "the Boys and Girls Club initiatives mirror our school improvement plan which helps the students be successful."

Riverdale Elementary School is one of five schools which serve as pilot locations for the "Clubs in Schools" initiative. The other schools are South Atlanta High School, Radloff Middle School in Duluth, Marietta Sixth-Grade Academy, and Morgan County Middle School in Madison.

"Riverdale, Forest Park and Morrow were identified as high-need areas, but Riverdale had the highest need based on economic factors," Eaves said. "So, we narrowed our starting point to schools in Riverdale, and we went through the school system and worked with the principals to find a school to establish a club at. The principal at Riverdale Elementary offered her school as a pilot site for us."

Madden said she opened the school's doors to the Boys & Girls Club because she thought her students would benefit from having access to the organization's programs.

"I grew up in a community that had a Boys & Girls Club, and I benefited a lot from being exposed to it," Madden said. "The Boys & Girls Club gave us a lot of opportunities to have some place to go and stay out of trouble."

Madden said she and officials from the Boys & Girls Club decided to set enrollment in the school's club at 100 students because they felt that amount would be easier for staff to manage. Riverdale Elementary Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Aukejshia Boyce-Gaskins said the club currently has 85 members.

During their time at the Riverdale Elementary School Boys & Girls Club, students spend the first "Power Hour" working with teachers from the school on homework, and preparing for tests. "We do it right away because they're still fresh with some of the information in their heads," Boyce-Gaskins said.

The rest of the time is spent in programs such as visual arts, health and physical education, and the learning center, where students participate in activities like academics-themed games, or writing poetry.

Georgia Antwi-Adjei, 9, a third-grader at the school, said she enjoys the arts, health and learning center programs offered by the Boys & Girls Club. "It's fun," she said. "I like the gym because it is fun and I like to play sports, and I like the learning center because we get to learn about other cultures."

Deondre Weatherly, 8, a second-grader, said his favorite part about being involved in the Boys & Girls Club is "the Power Hour so we can do our homework."

Second-grade teacher Geneva Carter, one of the teachers who works with the Boys & Girls Club, said she enjoys her involvement with the group because it allows her to build a better relationship with students at the school. Carter works with fifth-graders during the club's "Power Hour."

"I like everything about it," Carter said. "We get to interact more with students from different grade levels that we don't normally work with during the school day."

Jim Carlisle, a father of two Riverdale Elementary School students who are in the Boys & Girls Club program, said he enrolled his children in the program because it gave them a place to stay after school while still working on their education.

"It gives these kids an opportunity to relax, and have fun in an educational setting," Carlisle said. "It's just an extension of school, and they love it here."

For more information on the Riverdale Elementary School Boys & Girls Club, call (770) 944-4015.