Junior high students reap benefits from innovative afterschool program

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Hang-time 007
Staff Photo/Deborah Stone. The computer lab is a popular spot for Hang-Time students at Northshore Junior High School.
Three days a week, from 2:30 – 4:30 p.m., you’ll find a large group of students socializing, playing games, working in the computer lab, engaging in various enrichment activities and studying together in Northshore Junior High’s cafeteria.

They’re participants in Hang-Time, a free afterschool program for youth offered through a partnership between the Northshore YMCA and Northshore School District.

Piloted in fall 2010, the program was motivated by several factors, including state funding cuts that necessitated district cuts to afterschool and other academic and activity programs, as well as changes in the economy which affected families and community services.

Eileen Jowell, Northshore Community Schools coordinator, says, “Community organizations and schools coming together made sense — shared resources and ease for families to connect to services and resources.” She adds, “District demographics and needs were changing and NSD sought to get ahead of the changing demographics — more families nearing or at poverty and an increase in Latino families to Northshore.”

The district applied for a middle school intervention grant with the Seattle Foundation and was subsequently awarded $100,000.

The money was viewed as an opportunity to develop partnerships with the community to provide afterschool opportunities for junior high school students that would engage them in school, provide mentorship, academic support and social and recreational activities.

With the money, the district proceeded to create community school models at two junior highs, Northshore and Kenmore.

Additional grants from The Seattle Foundation and King County’s Community Putting Prevention to Work helped Hang-Time become a reality at these schools.

A third location site for the program, Skyview Junior High, has since been added.

As to why the program is geared specifically to junior high students, Jowell responds: “This is a critical developmental time. Students are changing developmentally — physically and emotionally — combined with having a new schedule and school.” She adds, “The district secured the services of Mary Beth Celio, an educational researcher, to analyze district graduation rates and determine the early student indicators for dropping out of high school.

“Her research identified that interventions in the middle level years are critical to reducing the dropout rate. Hang-Time specifically addresses two of the key indicators — attendance and grades.” Jowell proceeds to explain that there are several goals of the program, which include creating a safe and enriching environment for students; providing high quality, engaging and teen appropriate recreation activities; assisting youth in their academic potential by offering a structured homework center where students have access to resources, college mentoring and positive adult support; seeking meaningful opportunities for youth voice, leadership and service learning; and actively engaging parents to be involved as volunteers and become aware of student progress.

At Northshore Junior High, Principal Joshua Sanchez notes that there is a definite need to provide a place for students to go after school beyond clubs and athletics.

He comments that many parents had expressed a need for extra support in the community as many of them work well past the time students get out of school.

He adds, “Another main focus is to support students feeling connected to school. Research shows that if students feel connected to school, the more they attend the more they will probably succeed.”

In asking students at NJH what they would typically do after school if they weren’t playing sports or in a club, Sanchez heard many respond that they would just go home, watch T.V., play video games or hang out with friends.

When he spoke with parents, there was concern that students were doing nothing.

He comments, “At this age level, students need activity and structured time for homework.”

According to Jowell, Hang-Time has been well-received.

She notes that kids thrive in the program and parents appreciate the safe and productive setting for their children.

Sanchez comments that he is extremely happy with the program and the results, adding, “We are seeing more school attendance, students getting homework done regularly, and most of all, the positive impact the Y and college mentors have had on our students.”

He comments that the program is open to all students and many different types of students are taking advantage of it, which is heartening.

During Hang-Time’s first year at NJH, only a small number of kids participated, mainly seventh graders. In the second year, the number increased and eighth graders began attending, as well as a few ninth graders. This year, Hang-Time is part of the school culture and students from all grade levels are involved, with an average of 30 to 40 kids showing up per session.

Seventh grader Kate Lottis attends on occasion if her parents are busy and won’t be home after school. She likes going to Hang-Time because she can be with her friends and engage in fun activities.

“It’s a nice environment and the people are nice, too,” she says. “You also get a lot of personal attention and I can get most of my homework done while I’m here.”

Tina Etabari, Kate’s friend, echoes the sentiment, adding, “The games are fun and I always have friends here.”

Ninth grader Cristain Flores is in his third year with the program. He learned about it from Principal Sanchez who encouraged him to attend when he was a seventh grader.

“I wasn’t doing well in school,” explains Cristain, “and Mr. Sanchez told me that at Hang-Time I could do my homework and get help if I needed it. I’ve been coming ever since.”

He adds, “I like that I can do my homework and the mentors can help with different subjects. I’m doing better at school now and that’s good.”

Hang-time staff and volunteers serve as tutors, small group facilitators, positive role models, mentors and team-game coaches, helping to strengthen students’ sense of belonging and self-confidence.

Samantha Porter, coordinator of Hang-Time at NJH, notes that the program is instrumental in forging connections with the students on various levels. “It’s about building relationships,” she says. “We engage with the kids on a one-to-one basis and really get to know them individually. We are there to offer another form of support for them.”

Hang-Time has been funded largely by grants from a number of foundations and organizations. Jowell hopes that with growing interest, demonstrated success and a commitment to on-going funding from the community at large, the program will not only continue, but expand to all middle level schools as the district transitions from junior high schools to a middle school program in the future. For more information about Hang-Time, contact Eileen Jowell at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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