PROFILE: Here’s where you’ll find kids after the final bell of the school day rings

Published 4:18 pm Thursday, February 27, 2020

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The school day in Shelby County ends at about 3 p.m., but a whole new slate of activities awaits children at local afterschool programs immediately afterward. Kids in all grades can spend the hours between school and sunset engaging in team sports and educational activities and hands-on crafts together—all welcome alternatives to screen time for parents.

To Explore New Things

Once a month, children at the Montevallo Boys & Girls Club take an imaginary trip around the world through a special game and craft “to broaden their worlds,” Director Freda Shivers says. In December, for instance, she “took” the kids to China, even treating them to authentic Chinese candy. The interactive lesson was particularly meaningful to Shivers, who adopted a little girl from China years ago. Her daughter was 13 years old when the club opened and Shivers was named director—a position she has embraced wholeheartedly ever since. “I think my gift I came to earth with is children, to make a difference for kids in this community,” she says. “I don’t know how it would get any better than that.”

Nearly 80 children from the Montevallo and Calera areas go to the club after school each day to find out what the staff have planned for them, whether it’s an activity in which they can stretch their minds and bodies, or practice good sportsmanship and teamwork. They also learn about community service. Just before Thanksgiving last year, they made turkey decorations for the local senior center, and Shivers led them on a “top-secret mission” to place the decorations as a surprise for the seniors the next day.

No matter the time of year, the Boys & Girls Club facility is well-equipped for indoor and outdoor activities alike. “We love to be outside as much as we can,” Shivers says. “I tell them at the end of the week, if you haven’t found something you love to do, come tell me because I’m not doing my job. I haven’t had a kid come to me yet.” Above all, Shivers wants to nurture the gifts and interests each child possesses, whether they align with a future career in software development or on a football field in the NFL. She and her staff are simply trying—one day, one hour, one activity at a time—to open kids’ eyes to possibilities they might never have considered.

“I always say to my staff that you just never know what’s sinking in,” Shivers says. “We’re planting seeds every day and trying to provide the water and the sunshine. You never know which seed is going to grow.”

To Tumble & Climb

Students at Pelham Ridge Elementary School don’t have far to go after school to learn how to tumble, climb a rock wall or traverse a ropes course. That’s exactly what Legacy Gymnastics owner Brianna Mitchell had in mind when she decided to build Legacy’s new facility across the road from the school. Mitchell says PRES kids come for afterschool activities as well as specialty camps Legacy holds regularly. “On Monday, we did a P.E. class, so all 800-plus students came for a 30-minute P.E. block. It was the first time we had done that, and it went awesome.”

For Legacy’s afterschool program, Mitchell’s office assistant picks up students who are enrolled in the gym’s open classes at 3:30, 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. Kids can take cheer tumbling classes and ninja classes, and they can try out a ropes course, rock wall, trampolines, foam pits, beams, bars and other equipment in the gym. “We incorporate obstacle courses and different setups each week,” Mitchell says. “We also have boys’ and girls’ recreational classes.”

About 30 kids are currently enrolled in the program, which has grown steadily since the new facility opened last year. “We were excited to see the enrollment boost from the school,” she says. “It’s getting more kids to be active after school.” Mitchell’s hope is that more kids continue to enroll in the afterschool classes, even if they just come one day a week. After all, one day is better than none. And maybe some of the young kids in the afterschool classes now could end up in Legacy’s competitive gymnastics program in the future. “We have some really talented young athletes,” Mitchell says.

To Learn, Give & Play

Wednesdays in the Greystone YMCA’s Afterschool Academy are as lively as they are enriching. Each week, children work on a special project and participate in clubs on crafting, sports, sign language, coding, entomology and many other topics. “These special days really allow students to work in an area that they are passionate about or explore new interests,” Youth Development Director Tonya Fewell says. And that’s just one day.

Fewell and her staff utilize every minute of the Y’s afterschool program on weekdays to engage kids in kindergarten through eighth grade in activities that foster learning, physical activity, creativity and a healthy approach to eating. As soon as children arrive by bus from their respective schools, they receive a healthy snack and have time to do homework and free play in the gym.

Then, counselors divide the kids into groups by grade levels to start on an academic enrichment exercise. “Last week we made catapults, and we had a catapult party at the end of the week,” Fewell says. “This week they’re creating gift bags for homeless shelters to provide warm things for the holidays and cold season. It’s always a good time for them.”

Fridays are reserved for STEAM challenges, and every day includes a brief period of free play in the gym.

About 50 kids from eight schools in the Inverness, Mt Laurel, Oak Mountain and Chelsea areas attend the Afterschool Academy, which follows the Shelby County Schools calendar each year, breaking for the summer. Parents whose children attend the program know where they are and what they’re doing until they pick them up from the Y at 6 p.m. “They’re getting a healthy snack, they’re being physically active and they’re getting some mental stimulation in a wholesome environment,” Fewell says. “They’re being cared for. They’re getting all the things parents want them to do. It’s definitely a good thing.”