HARVARD — If you build it, will they pay to come? And how much should parents pay? The answers to those questions are not yet known.
But in a test pilot program, the Harvard School Committee took the leap Aug. 8 to authorize $10,000 in Devens revenues towards launching after-school programming catering to the under-served Bromfield middle school student population.
“I do not see this I place for Sept. 1,” said Interim Harvard School Superintendent Joseph Connelly. That’s in part because there’ll be a call for student input and buy-in in the project. Connelly said Bromfield Principal Jim O’Shea agrees “it has to be seen as a Bromfield initiative.”
Connelly said it’s more likely such a center would open by Oct. 1. In the meantime, there’s been a purge of stuff stored in the IT room at the lower level at the school.
“It was really quite a storage area,” said Connelly. “An archive of what, I don’t know.”
But since the idea of a tween-aged drop-in center materialized this summer, Connelly said the room’s already undergone a “remarkable” transformation. “You can almost visualize it being used for this purpose.”
The space has been used both for storage but also a practice area for the crew team. The crew team will remain in the space behind an 8 foot-high partition, dividing the room in half. Otherwise, the drop-in center will retain its two pool tables, one air hockey table, and a couch.
Connelly also envisioned a couple of tables and chairs and computer stations for homework. Connelly said the school administration can tap a subcommittee of middle school students to investigate what other additions would serve their needs. “Say to kids ‘What do you want? How’d you decorate it? Give the kids ownership.”
The center should have the student’s own “personality and atmosphere,” said Connelly. “The worst is to do it and say ‘Here’s your drop-in center.”
Connelly recommended a paid teacher man the center whenever it’s open, which could be from 3 to 5 p.m. “I know that’s not absolutely necessary,” said Connelly. But professional staffing would provide “instant credibility with parents” who’d be asked to pay for their child’s open drop-in rights to the center. Preliminary thoughts were for a $75 flat membership fee per student.
Assistance could be provided by Bromfield upperclassmen in search of community service credits. The goal is for the center to eventually become financially self supporting. If teacher time is logged at two and a quarter hours a day at a teacher’s rate, then staffing could cost $60 per day.
If snacks are included, the daily cost could jump to as much as $75. With 180 days in the school year, the costs could run upwards of $16,000 with other incidentals rolled in.
Connelly pitched a $10,000 sum in seed money. “It would be tremendously helpful in getting us over the hump.”
While Community Education coordinator Judy Cavanaugh has been involved in sizing up the situation and payments may be processed through that office, the “school administration would oversee the whole operation,” Connelly suggested.
“If you build it, will they come? I’m not sure about that,” admitted Connelly. “But let’s build it and hope they come.”
Buy-in is critical. Connelly suggested it could be mentioned at open houses before classes resume, broadcast via electronic email newsletters, and media coverage. Connelly suggested the goal is to “Try to get people excited about it. It may catch on. When I did afterschool childcare in Stoneham, it was extremely successful” and pulled in 500 students from the elementary school. Notably, in the middle school, the program “never took off. After the second year, we stopped it at the middle school because there was no interest. But that was strictly baby sitting. This is a different dimension. I think it’s worth the attempt.”
While the discussion was borne of the issue of students loitering at the public library, Connelly said “this is not connected to the library issue at all but it may benefit the library issue. It may give the kids another place to go.”
Committee member Kirsten Wright agreed.
‘It gives them an opportunity to be part of their school community. It’s developmentally very appropriate” for students who’ve just graduated from the elementary school and find themselves “without a purpose” on the older aged campus.
“It can also be a launching off opportunity for cooking lessons and stuff like that,” said Committee member Piali De. “There can be separate revenue generating programs. It may not want to run five days a week, … maybe not Fridays.”
Connelly said O’Shea suggested being open for just an hour on Friday afternoons since many may instead opt to head home for the weekend. “We’ll have to wait and see. Kids can join and they decide when they show up and not show up. I’d suggest no per day fee but an overall fee, and then they can come and go as they please.”
“What is it that makes this developmentally appropriate?” asked School Committee Chairman Keith Cheveralls. Cheveralls said it would self-perpetuate itself if executed property and the “sweet spot” of offerings is concocted, becoming an “institutionalized part of the middle school experience.” But he asked why the concept is age appropriate. “What is it we’re going to appeal to?”
“It gives middle school students a degree of independence — with supervision,” said Connelly. “That’s the key. They’re going to have their own decisions to make.”
“Can they make some of the rules?” Cheveralls pondered. “Let them name the place,” said De. “Run it as a club.”
“When you’re a middle school student, more than anything, you want to belong,” said Wright. “My concern for the middle school students is that they feel that they belong when they (leave the elementary school and) go across the street. This gives them another opportunity.”
“What do you need from us?” Cheveralls asked Connelly.
“Money,” said De. “Silly me,” said Cheveralls.
“I’d need a teacher to supervise the kids. That takes money,” said Connelly. “I think $10,000 and hopefully we wouldn’t spend it all. It would be an appropriate amount to at least cover the payroll for the first year.”
The committee agreed unanimously to appropriate $10,000 in revenues from the MassDevelopment contract with Harvard to educate Devens students.
De suggested another after-hours activity that could tempt the masses. “Geocaching!” said De of the GPS-assisted treasure hunting game. “Gets the parents involved!”