In a roomful of busy and chattering children, 10-year-old Taylr Heinrich talked with enthusiasm about skating, swimming and taking trips to the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas. Those are among the sorts of activities that she may be doing with the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson County this summer.
But Taylr said she’s doing school work, too, during the summer at the club.
“It makes you get ready for the next grade,” said Taylr, who lives in White Hall, on a Thursday afternoon at the Boys & Girls Club’s Townsend Park unit.
The Boys & Girls Club’s summer program runs 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, from June 11 to Aug. 3, at the Townsend Park location at 2701 Short Reeker St. It runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, from June 18 to July 20, at the First United Methodist Church site on 200 W. 6th Ave. in Pine Bluff. The summer program fee is $35 per week, per child, and the children must have a $25 per year membership to participate. Officials say that families with three or more children may be eligible for price reductions in the summer program fee.
Nyeshia Aldridge, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson County, said the academic part of the summer’s agenda is called Summer Brain Gain, defined on the Boys & Girls Clubs of America as a “learning loss prevention program.”
Avoiding the summer slide
“We don’t want any of our members to lose what they’ve learned throughout the school year during the summer,” Aldridge said, during an interview in the Townsend Park location. “The goal is to keep them on track to graduate.”
The form that such academic work may take, though, doesn’t necessarily look like what the students do during the school year.
“We might take a deck of Uno cards, and then do a math competition and offer incentives for winners,” Aldridge said. “With our younger kids, we might have them identify colors and add the numbers on the cards. It’s about basic math skills.”
Emily Burris, site coordinator at the First United Methodist Church’s Boys & Girls Club location, said teachers from the Pine Bluff Lighthouse Charter School help with learning activities during the summer. The First United Methodist Church location works closely with the Pine Bluff Lighthouse Charter School, and all of its students come from the school.
Burris said students might roll dice and multiply numbers, or read and talk about books of their own choosing. They might do some writing or some worksheets, too, but no grades are involved.
“It’s not ‘This is for a grade,’” she said. “‘It’s ‘This is something fun that you can do.’”
The adults helping out the students come from both the Boys & Girls Club’s regular staff other organizations, said James M. Britt, unit director for the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson County. He mentioned young workers who may come from the Southeast Arkansas Economic Development District, Southeast Arkansas College and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Herschel Marcus, an 11-year-old member from Pine Bluff, has noticed the wide variety of staff members.
“Here, if you don’t know how to do it, there will be more than one person to help you,” Herschel said, as he took a break from a basketball game at the Townsend Park location.
Students will also work on gardening over the summer, Aldridge said, as they tend two plots at the First United Methodist Church location – plots they’ve already started – along with a small butterfly garden they plan to start at the Townsend Park unit.
Cooking activities are also on tap, along with field trips, sewing, swimming and other activities.
“We like things that are going to improve the mind, body and soul,” Aldridge said.
Aldridge and Britt underlined the value of having a safe place for children to stay.
“They’re in a safe environment,” Britt said, adding that children tend to come and visit the area from various parts of the country in the summer.
“Most of the kids during the after-school program are the same,” he said. “But we have a variety of kids who come to the summer program.”
Looking to teens
Children from 5 to 18 years old can participate in the Boys & Girls Club, and Britt said most of the children in the summer tend to fall between 9 and 12 years old. Aldridge and Britt said a goal is to attract more teens into the Club.
“Right now we’re looking into transforming one of our areas into a teen room,” Aldridge said, “just to give them a little space so they have ownership of a program.”
Meanwhile, teen members – called junior staff members – do help out at the club. Tatiyana Williams, 16, was at the Townsend Park location on Thursday, leading activities and talking to the younger members.
“Most of them will talk to you and say if something’s wrong,” she said. But sometimes she might come upon a shy child, as well.
“Sometimes you can go up to them and talk to them but they’ll still be shy,” she said. “So later on, maybe they’ll come around. You give them time to get used to you.”
For Tatiyana, who talks about children with a maturity that belies her own age, helping younger children may end up blossoming into a lifelong endeavor.
“I actually want to be a pediatric nurse practitioner,” she said.
It’s one of many dreams that can flourish among children during a warm, and creative, summer.
People seeking information can call the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson County at 870-850-7500.