MORRIS In the Morris Central School library, students sit at a table doing homework, while others are clustered around a computer. Across the room, students are abuzz over a card game.
This noisy activity is happening after school.
"The school is a good place to be and positive things can be happening here after the buses pull out," said Michael Virgil, Morris school superintendent. "My biggest motive is making school a friendly place to be."
These students attend a new after-school program started this month with a grant from the Otsego Department's substance abuse prevention funds, Virgil said. The program gives students a safe place to be with a structured yet informal atmosphere, he said.
The library is a better place to do homework than sitting in the school's hallway waiting for practice, students said, or to being at home with the distraction of a television set.
"It's one of the best things the school came up with," said seventh-grader Tommy Lymn Jr., 12. "It helps us keep our grades up."
Between five and 25 sixth-through 12th-graders voluntarily have gone to the program, which runs from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, school officials said. The school's enrollment is about 500 students.
For some students, going home isn't practical because they have to be at school at 4:30 p.m. for a sports practice or game. And other students don't want to go home after school, for whatever reason, said Mindy Kelley, a substance abuse counselor with the Otsego-Northern Catskills Board of Cooperative Educational Services. The program is an extension of an after-school session she offered on Thursdays last year.
School officials didn't know the amount of the grant, but said it pays for a teacher, snacks and transportation.
Terry Maerz, a Morris school teacher supervising the after-school program, is tuned into the students, their activities and behavior. One moment, she is helping a student with an English assignment; awhile later she calls students' attention to a smashed cracker that needs to be picked up from the floor.
"What I really like to see is kids helping each other," Maerz said. She provides "a little food, a little help with homework whatever is needed first sometimes it's just a little bit of attention, a little bit of love."
However, students said they know Maerz's expectation is that homework comes first. Maerz said within the first two weeks she noticed that a few students were doing homework during the study halls during the day so that they could socialize, play or use the computer during the after-school program.
"This is the first day we've had cards," said Anthony Clary, 13, as he dealt during a recent after-school program. Usually he does homework for his seventh-grade classes and his grades have improved, he said.
The card game attracted five other students, who exclaimed over winning moves. After her first day, and several card games, 15-year-old Dawn Dawyot, a ninth-grader, said, "I think it's pretty fun."
In January, the school also started an after-school program for elementary children through the Oneonta YMCA, which charges a fee. Virgil said there are about five children in the program. He hopes both programs will be offered next school year and that enrollment will grow.
"We need to find ways for kids to be places that are supervised, relaxed ... have an opportunity to get work done or to have a conversation," Virgil said. Students face new assessments and academic expectations, he said, and the program is one way the school can be more responsive to needs of the community and its students.
"What concerns everyone in education is to find ways to assist kids," Virgil said. "Programs like this are the kinds of things we need to do more of."
If you have some good news you'd like to share, please call City Editor Rachel Dickler at 432-1000 or (800) 721-1000; e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org; fax her at 432-5847; or write to her at P.O. Box 250, Oneonta, N.Y. 13820.
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