TAMPA – Just because the school bell rings doesn’t mean the school day is anywhere near over.
At the Northwest Hillsborough YMCA after-school program, it’s just starting. That’s not really a bad thing. The YMCA runs buses to eight local schools for its after-school program. The program runs until 7 p.m. and spans from kindergarten to fifth-grade.
The program, unlike some after-school programs, does not encourage video games or television. For one, Program Director Pam Kepley doesn’t allow either, but she does ensure there are plenty of activities to occupy the kids until their guardians show up.
School work comes first, she said. After that, there is plenty to do at the Northwest YMCA.
“They have games and programs and they can swim and play ball, but we make sure the homework is done first,” Kepley said.
And so far, both parents and kids seem to like the idea.
“Parents like it because they can spend quality time with their kids instead of making them to their homework,” she said. “They (the kids) know that if they do their homework, they can play until their parents pick them up and then they can play with their parents when they get home.”
There are plenty of things for the children to do. During rainy days when some of the facilities are muddy and the pool is closed, Kepley employs her method of “Music and Movement.” In other words, the music is cranked up and the kids are always moving.
“We always want the kids to be moving,” Kepley said. “One of our goals is to close the achievement gap between the kids. There is a gap in the learning process and we work hard on studying and homework and reading.”
Physical fitness and fighting childhood obesity are other challenges that the YMCA has been willing to take on.
“Too many kids area watching video games and television when they get home from school and we don’t do that here,” Kepley said. “We don’t show movies, we don’t have video games. Everybody gets exercise. It’s an important thing that is being ignored.”
The kids are divided into their own pods so that kids of similar ages are able to play together. There are nine counselors and at least two are usually in charge of a specific pod.
Sometimes kids aren’t happy with whatever activity they are assigned. Some, Kepley said, are bored.
No problem. All the kids have to do is tell their counselor that they are bored and suggest different activities. Kepley said those suggestions are taken seriously.
Kepley said that the Northwest YMCA hasn’t stopped trying to make things better for their kids. With eight different schools, including Bryant, Westchase, Lowry and Deer Park, there is never a lack of kids.
A recent addition on Fridays is a bounce house. And parents don’t need to worry about injuries because the pods move from one station to another.
“Safety comes first here,” Kepley said. “It doesn’t get too crazy.”
The most important thing, Kepley said, is that the kids have fun in the afternoon, get done with their homework, and then have a night to spend with the parents.
“We have a lot of kids, but we let them have fun,” Kepley said. “Parents have to work, but they also don’t want to go home and have to make their kids do homework. This way, the kids get to spend quality time and that is the most important thing.’’