is an after-school success story
For many kids, school spring
break means long days at home alone watching television. Thanks to a
new AmeriCorps program, two
groups of Mecklenburg County youngsters had a more memorable experience
The youth participated in
spring break camps at the Mallard Creek Recreation Center and the Naomi
Drenan Recreation Center in Charlotte. They were taught by AmeriCorps
members, who this year have led after-school programs for children in
kindergarten through eighth grade.
Children in the program
learn science concepts through Cooperative
science curriculum. They also have participated in gardening and beautification
projects, with help from Extension
Master Gardeners and horticulture agents.
AmeriCorps came to Mecklenburg
in September 2001. In conjunction with Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation,
the program has provided leadership for after-school programs at five
sites in Charlotte. The sites were selected in areas with severe
deficiencies in after-school opportunities.
Four of the five after-school
centers created outdoor gardens, and the fifth developed a raised bed
for plants. The children in the programs started seeds indoors to transplant
into their gardens, said Fran Cook, AmeriCorps program director with
Cooperative Extension in Mecklenburg County.
The main purpose is
to teach children about gardening and where our food comes from. We
are hopeful that the gardens will be a pilot project to engage communities
in larger gardens, Cook said.
Cook says the first year
for AmeriCorps has been a success. This year, the program served about
350 youth, and the spring break camp was an opportunity to attract more
students to the after-school program.
On the last day of spring
break camp, older students at the Drenan center performed electricity
experiments, creating simple motors and powering them with batteries.
Around the room were posters, depicting the many areas of science the
after-school kids have explored this year the solar system, Newtons
law, meteorology, sound, air pressure and environment.
Though the kids have learned
a lot, they said the camp is more fun than school: We do less
work here. Were here longer (than at school), but we have more
Amira, 8, said she liked
making a bulb light up by connecting it to a battery and switch. If
she hadnt been at camp this week, she would have been home watching
television, she said.
The AmeriCorps members who
lead the program are a diverse group. Cook says many of them are from
Charlotte, some from the neighborhoods served by the program. They receive
a small stipend for their service, and if they complete a years
full-time service, they receive an additional $4,725 education award.
Seneca Toms, 21, is a college
student studying horticulture. A former Mecklenburg 4-Her who
was kicked out when he turned 19, Toms jumped at the opportunity
to be part of a program that involved 4-H curriculum.
I always wanted to
work in 4-H, Toms said. To be a 4-H agent would be the greatest
job in the world.
Quacy Moore is finishing
work on his high school diploma at Central Piedmont Community College
in Charlotte this year. He learned of the AmeriCorps opportunity while
working with the park and rec office.
He has teamed up with Courtney
Cromer, a recent college grad, to lead an after-school group at the
Drenan center. They call their program QC, the initials
of their first names.
Supervising a gym full of
children, Cromer, 23, said her year with AmeriCorps has been awesome.
Its been a challenging, but good year.