From SOMA YouthNet:
As our students pursue learning remotely, YouthNet after school clubs continue to be virtual and accessible to the entire SOMS and MMS population. This cross communication between schools, a district goal, offers students the chance to meet and make new friends by blending the middle school communities together.
“Even though the clubs are virtual, they provide an opportunity for students to just be themselves and choose an activity that brings them joy. This is so important for everyone’s well being and health in normal times but especially in these times,” explains SOMS teacher, Kyndell Pierce, leader of the photography club and a YouthNet coordinator. This fall, 300 middle school students joined 23 YouthNet Clubs virtually. “YouthNet was able to find the silver lining in this situation by offering more extensive opportunities for the youth in our communities to stay engaged,” says Diane Malloy, YouthNet’s Executive Director.
For 12 years YouthNet, a 501c 3 nonprofit, has been a leader in creating after school programming for SOMA students. These clubs are created and run by district teachers and are open to all SOMSD middle school students regardless of their financial circumstances. Club participation is up across the board with over 50 students fully sponsored by the organization.
Many clubs have returned this session including the Spectrum Club, the Marvel/DC Club and JR Historians alongside new entries like Reading Ambassadors-where middle schoolers are trained as reading buddies for elementary students-and Chop It Like It’s Hot-a special turn on the popular Food Network program. “The clubs are vital for students to have particularly now, because they are a place where they can socialize, meet new people, and try something out of the ordinary,” explains MMS teacher, Mrs. Dominique Laing-Rogers, leader of the Chess Club and the YouthNet coordinator for MMS.
YouthNet sponsors two additional programs in the school district which are on hold until students return to the classroom: the Extended Enrichment Program for those middle school students staying in their buildings until 6pm and a roster of community based activities for Columbia High School students.
As with most nonprofits during these turbulent times, YouthNet funding has been cut significantly as participation has increased. In fact, 50 out of the 300 students attending clubs this fall received full scholarships putting added pressure on the organization. YouthNet is launching a fundraising campaign in November and is looking to the citizenry of South Orange and Maplewood for additional help in order to keep the communities’ youth engaged and safe. For more information go to www.somayouthnet.org