By James Niedzinski
---- — GLOUCESTER — “It needs rocket-boosters,” said nine-year-old Gilad Gerber, working on his LEGO creation at the new after-school care program Thursday at West Parish school.
Gilad, along with 21 other students, took part in the first day of the revitalized program, which kicked off a new era Thursday under the coordination and leadership of staff members from the Cape Ann YMCA.
While Gilad was using his imagination to bring his creations to life, other students played board games and worked on homework in the library, while the rest played basketball in the gymnasium.
The students began by washing up in preparation for the snack of the day, pretzels.
“They’re good — really, really good,” nine-year-old Gavin Harris said as he washed down his pretzels with a gulp of water.
Gavin said he preferred the holiday-themed snacks the school-run program had previously offered, such as candy canes, cheese sticks and Halloween treats. But staff member Annette Billings said much of the activities and snacks are up to students; she explained to students that snack options must be healthy and the activities reasonable.
The previous program was shut down two weeks ago, and investigations remain ongoing from several local and state authorities looking into its supervision and other issues. But parents and students alike Thursday were glad to have the program back.
”I like (the new program) better than the other one (after-school program) so far,” third-grader Elizabeth Dinan said.
Dinan said she didn’t care for basketball — the activity of the day — and opted to work on her homework instead.
Staff members managed to trick a number of students during a quick game of “Simon says” as a warmup before the basketball game.
Brian Flynn, the Interim Director of Operations for the YMCA, said the program was off to a good start, but conceded there was a “learning curve” for some of the kids. For example, students first are organized into the school’s cafeteria for a snack, and can then choose to work on homework, play a sport or board game.
There was a bit of a learning curve for staff members, too, as they tried to communicate through walkie-talkies.
If students change their minds about what they want to do during the program — which they did Thursday — no one student may accompany a YMCA staff member; students must travel in groups when accompanying a staff member, per YMCA guidelines, Flynn said.
Parents were also glad the program’s roughly 12-day hiatus was over. During the program’s absence, some parents said getting time off from work, or having a family member help out in child care, proved difficult.
“I was lucky, I was able to get some time off work,” Christine Fershaw said.
”It was very difficult,” said Laurie Horne.
In a letter to parents on March 1, Superintendent of Schools Richard Safier acknowledged that the sudden shutdown would prove inconvenient for some, but it was necessary to ensure the after-school care program was properly staffed and supervised.-
Guy Cloutman, a parent of a West Parish student who works in Boston, said he was also fortunate, and managed to get some time off work to tend to his child’s needs.
”Luckily, I have a decent foreman,” he said.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.