Local parents looking for ways to guide, connect and enrich their 6th through 12th grade students after school might want to take a close look at YouthNet.
YouthNet is a nonprofit providing after care and after school enrichment for middle school and high school students throughout the South Orange-Maplewood School District.
“We do lots of different things,” says Executive Director Diane Malloy.
First, YouthNet has a strong presence in the middle schools, including extended enrichment from dismissal through 6 p.m. After care includes games, activities in the gym, outside activities when the weather is fine, snacks, and homework and tutoring — until the clubs begin in late September. YouthNet runs clubs in both South Orange Middle School and Maplewood Middle School in three 6-week sessions for Fall, Winter and Spring.
“The students are encouraged to participate in clubs,” said Malloy. The YouthNet clubs are free although there is a $30 YouthNet registration fee.
Clubs this fall include Shakespeare, football, environment, the “Awesome” club which does PSAs and volunteering, the middle earth club, Minecraft, coding, and the fit club which is new this year and sponsored with a PEP grant. (To see the full list of fall clubs at SOMS and MMS, visit here.)
Also new this year in both middle schools: fencing with the New Jersey Fencing Alliance. Although the club is free, there is a $50 equipment fee. However, no child will be excluded because of financial need; scholarships are available for after care and club programs.
Otherwise, the clubs are run by teachers. Malloy said that a great benefit of teacher-sponsored clubs is that students can build better relationships with their teachers. She points to one middle school math teacher who runs a skateboard club. “The connections that they make with the kids are a really important bi-product. We encourage teachers if they have a passion or interest to try it out.”
YouthNet also assists with other paid clubs like robotics and Model U.N.
“This is our seventh year,” said Malloy. “We have come a long way since the very beginning.”
YouthNet got started in response to some raucous behavior when Maplewood Middle School students with nothing to do after school were overwhelming the public library across the street. (See the video above.)
“You lose kids sometimes right after 7th grade,” said Malloy. “You do need to be involved. You need clubs. It’s important to keep them interested and involved.”
At the high school level, the YouthNet program looks very different.
In high school, said Malloy, “It’s not an after care situation. The students are too old.” In addition, Columbia High School has its own clubs and sporting activities. But, said Malloy, “There are still kids who are looking for more, for something in their broader community.”
“At high school, we have something called the YAB or Youth Advisory Board.” YAB meets on the second Wednesday of every month at the Maplewood Pizzeria across the street from CHS on Valley.
“We eat pizza and talk about building a better community and we run fundraisers,” said Malloy.
In fact, the YAB runs coffee houses at The Baird in South Orange every other month. The coffee house events raise money for good causes. Each event has brought in 150 to 200 kids, said Malloy.
“It’s totally organized, marketed and run by the Youth Advisory Board.”
In addition, YouthNet is meeting with new CHS Principal Elizabeth Aaron in the hopes of integrating YouthNet with the community service requirement that all CHS students must complete to graduate.
Also at CHS, YouthNet works with the guidance department on a mentoring program that places students in summer internships with local businesses. The program started by placing nine students and peaked with 35 placements in Summer 2013 (20 students were placed this past summer). “It varies every summer,” said Malloy.
“You’d be surprised,” said Malloy, “when we did our big survey a couple of years ago, one of the main things the students wanted to do was learn how to get a job.” Students in the program must take ownership, filling out applications and seeing the job interview process through to placement.
YouthNet will also have a table at both the SOMS and MMS Back-to-School Night events tonight at 7 p.m.