BAKER — A group of Baker School elementary students now has fun, gets homework help, keeps physically fit and indulges in creative and academic pursuits after dismissal.

The K-12 school — like Edwins, Elliott Point and Wright Elementary schools — has added ASPIRE, the After School Program In Reaching Excellence, to its offerings. The program is funded by a $1.5 million U.S. Department of Education 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant.  

“Part of what they do every day is a homework portion,” Principal Mike Martello said.

“Our goal is for them to finish all their homework here at school so they have family time at home,” Victoria Hurley, the school's assistant principal, said.

Each ASPIRE period also includes a snack and a creative program. On “Make It Monday,” for example, kids produce multimedia art projects. “Techy Tuesday” finds participants in the computer lab doing STEMM-related projects. Anything goes on “Wacky Wednesday,” where singing was the activity this week. “Think It Thursday” could be hands-on science experiments, or, as it was this week, a building station and later, theatre arts. And on “Frenzy Friday,” 4-H partners conduct activities.

Educators help plan the activities, Martello said. “We’ll do some food prep in the culinary classroom, and they’ll get to use the older kids’ computer lab and science labs,” he said.

A number of high school students also volunteer with the program; some earn leadership or community service credits for pitching in. “It’s just fun working with the little kids,” sophomore Alby Clendennin said. “It just feels good.”

As Alby helped first-grader Joseph Reiling color a drawing, Alby’s sister, Olivia, a freshman, drew outlines of dinosaurs and animals for kindergartners and first-graders to color.

“Look! I made a masterpiece,” kindergartner Austin Mortimer said, holding up a swirl of color, which, he explained, depicted bad guys fighting Captain America.

“The afternoon goes by so fast,” teacher Andrea Brown said. “The kids enjoy being with each other, and there’s so much more to do here besides just watching TV at home.”

When it’s time to blow off some steam, the kids head outdoors for physical activities like freeze tag, kick the can or balloon juggling. “We’re trying to do things they wouldn’t do during PE classes,” Hurley said.

Twenty-five Gators joined the program at the start of the school year, “but we’re building up to 60,” she said. Once parents sign up their child, there is no cost, but daily attendance is mandatory.

That's not a problem; administrators say the mix of academics, exercise and just plain fun keeps kids interested and contributes to academic performance.

“It makes them more confident at the start of each day,” Hurley said.


Contact Baker School assistant principal Victoria Hurley, 689-7279, for more information about ASPIRE, the After School Program In Reaching Excellence