By Mersades Wisner
The Don Sjogren Community YMCA Middle School After School Program, known as Y-MAP, is a free program for children in grades 5-8. This is the second year of the program that was created to give middle schoolers a safe and fun place to hang out after school.
Most students walk together with their friends from middle school. The kids can play activities in the gym, hang out in the racquetball courts, get help with homework, or when it’s nice outside, they can play games outside. On Fridays, we have movie days.
We also supply a healthy snack every day.
YMCA Sports Director Joel Pelster started the program as a safe place for kids to spend their time after school.
“YMCAs across America have all noticed the need of programs to reach middle school-age kids,” he said. “They are at a fragile age where they decide what path they want to take as a young adult. We just want to help push them in the right direction.”
Sixth-grader Jacob Moon said he likes that he can get homework done with his friends and he can work on his basketball skills. When I asked him to share his favorite thing about YMAP, he said, “Four-square is LEGENDARY. Put that in all caps! It’s so competitive people get bloody eyes sometimes. And, there’s snacks every day!”
(I think he was kidding about the bloody eyes.)
The number of kids who show up each day varies from less than 10 to more than 30, depending on after-school activities. We play a lot of card games and board games. We’ve been teaching the kids how to play chess. I always try to peer pressure the kids into doing their homework and I offer to help them.
I asked one of the middle school girls, Addison Westcott, what she thought about the program.
“I like staying here with my friends and walking with them here. We play a lot of games, and it keeps me occupied so I’m not home alone and bored. My goal is to beat Mersades and Joel at chess, and I like helping the other kids learn the game and get better.”
She said her favorite game is the “car game.” The game involves putting two chairs in the front and two in the back and pretending it’s a car. One of the chairs is the driver, and the driver has to guess what character the passengers picked out. The passengers will act out their character until the driver can figure out what character they are.
“We were playing the car game one time and my cousin picked The Beast from Beauty and the Beast. She put her hair over her head and looked like a haunted girl. I think that game is a lot of fun,” Addison said.
One of the moms with kids in both the Middle School After School Program and in the Elementary School Program, Rebekah Mussman, told me, “The Y middle school program has been great. It is so nice to have a place where the kids can go to do their homework, be active and interact with their peers in a safe, supportive environment.”
At Christmastime, we made crafts, including a red and green paper chain that we hung around the room. We have plans to do some other crafts like making bouncy balls and slime.
Cristal Wallace, a mom who works at the front desk said, “I enjoy the fact that my kids have a safe place to walk with friends to after school where they can have a snack, exercise and get help with homework. Also, they get to play board games and socialize with peers and adults that I wholeheartedly trust.”
I enjoy the opportunity to work with these kids. I remember how difficult this age was for me, and I love being there for them. I like watching these tiny humans try and figure out who they are as people.