After-school program asks Assembly for $48,500 funding

It’s 4 o’ clock in the afternoon and 12-year-old John Barresi’s school day ended an hour ago. But the sixth grader is still hanging out at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School working on a project with seven of his classmates.

They’re turning a pencil into an electronic noisemaker called a drawdio. By attaching a small speaker and some electronic components to a circuit board, then attaching the whole thing to a pencil, Barresi and his friends can make noise while they draw.

“You put your finger on one end and then you, like, get really close by touching the tip to the lead, and then you keep going farther and it will generate different sounds,” says Barresi, imitating the noise by making a high-pitched squeak.

The drawdio class is one of several activities geared toward middle school students offered by the Juneau Afterschool Coalition. If he wasn’t in the class, Barresi says he’d probably be at home doing homework.

Former city manager and coalition member Kevin Ritchie says after-school programs are one of the best ways communities can keep kids out of trouble.

“In the United States, the crime rate in the first hour after school is over is three times any other time of the day,” Ritchie told the Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole on Monday. “Youth not in after-school programs are three times more likely to experiment with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and so on, bad things.”

Ritchie says a recent survey conducted by the Association of Alaska School Boards showed 25 percent of Juneau students in grades six through eight had used alcohol or drugs.

The coalition did its own survey to see what the typical after-school activities were for students at Juneau’s two middle schools.

“Two out of three reported that they hang out at home or hang out with friends three to five days a week after school,” Ritchie says.

About half of all Juneau middle school students surveyed said they were with an adult in some capacity after school two days a week or less.

The coalition formed in 2010 to address a shortage of childcare options in Juneau. It began offering an activity program two years ago. The program is called B.A.M., for body and mind. Some of the activities include arts and crafts, Junior Police Academy, archery and baby-sitting classes. Ritchie says about a third of Juneau middle schoolers have taken part in at least one activity.

The after-school coalition is asking the Juneau Assembly for $48,500 — about half the money needed to keep the program going next school year.

“We want to integrate better with the school curriculum,” Ritchie says. “One of the ways we’re doing that is working with the Juneau Economic Development Council’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program. We’ve had some great activities, STEM activities, and we hope to have considerably more next year.”

Bernadette Rosano with JEDC’s STEM program teaches the drawdio class.

“I’m hoping we can expand a little bit into animation, because I know kids really like working on computers and Minecraft is a really big thing,” Rosano says.

The afterschool coalition’s funding request is 5 percent less than it received from the city this year. The assembly is trying to close a $12 million shortfall in the city’s next two-year budget. The group’s request will be taken up during the assembly’s budget meetings over the next two and a half months.

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