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YMCA after-school programs about more than fun

Published September 25, 2012 11:48 am

Continuing education • Kids learn to prevent bullying, avoid gang activity.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's no longer just fun to stay at the YMCA.

With curriculum ranging from diet and healthy living to bullying and gang prevention, the YMCA of Northern Utah is working to ensure that the learning doesn't stop with the end of the school day.

For many Utah schoolchildren, whatever learning they get after the final bell, they must get on their own. According to the nonprofit public awareness advocacy group Afterschool Alliance, each day more than 140,000 Utah children are responsible for taking care of themselves when they leave school. Kristen Courtney, youth programs director for the YMCA of Northern Utah, said curbing the effects of idleness — including gang activity — is a huge part of their after-school program.

"The kids have all day, if they don't have somewhere safe to go, to just hang out and get involved in these things," she said. "There's so much opportunity there for education, and education doesn't end with the school day."

With a presence in 24 school communities across Salt Lake and Weber counties, students such as Nathalie Rossi — a fourth-grader at John C. Fremont Elementary School in Taylorsville — receive instruction revolving around the four core values of the YMCA: honesty, respect, caring and responsibility.

"Those [values] trickle down to the basic concepts that we teach the kids all the way up to the CEO of the company," Courtney said.

When needed, they also receive tailored instruction to help them work through issues they may be facing on their own. Rossi, who comes from a Spanish-speaking household and learned English while attending school, said she's been the target of bullying and that, with help from program staff, she's implemented strategies to deal with the mistreatment. She said the instruction she's had makes her more prepared to lend assistance to others in the same situation.

"Bullying is rude," she said. "Nobody wants to be bullied because all it does is hurt feelings."

The security of knowing that their kids are in a safe, controlled environment is what makes the program so appealing, said Brent Malili, whose daughter has been attending the after-school program for three years. Like many parents with children in the program, Malili said his family initially got involved because he and his wife were working long hours and needed a safe place for their kids.

"We both work, and it's hard to find someone you trust with your kids," he said. "We know the people there, and they've been good to them. There I know they're active and doing things."

Although the YMCA is a big, highly visible organization, Courtney said its identity as a community-based nonprofit positions it well to provide after-school education tailored to the most pressing needs of the areas it serves. Workers assist the elementary and secondary schools in each of the 24 areas to emphasize math and science for some and more language assistance and reading to others.

Courtney said this approach, and the role of the YMCA of Northern Utah in it, is an example of "ubuntu," an African worldview that it takes an entire community to raise a child. But such a belief only works, she said, if needs are first identified, and that's what they're in a position to do.

"I'm really proud of the YMCA for being able to assess the needs of the community and then working to try to fill those needs," Courtney said.

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YMCA after-school programs

Each day, more than 140,000 Utah schoolchildren are left responsible for taking care of themselves at the end of the school day.

The YMCA of Northern Utah runs after-school programs in 24 school communities across Weber and Salt Lake counties, implementing a diverse curriculum ranging from reading and homework assistance to gang and bullying prevention.

After-school program staff at each of the YMCA's locations works closely with area schools to tailor curriculum to the needs of their students.