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More and more students are finding that there is more to do after school than playing video games, watching television and catching up on sleep.

More than 270,000 Maryland school-age children are unsupervised on average 10 hours a week, according to information provided by America After 3 p.m., a household survey conducted in 2009 by the Afterschool Alliance.

The 2009 survey included 30,000 homes across the nation.

The survey indicates that 17 percent of the state’s students in kindergarten through 12th grade — 66,000 kids — participate in after-school programs.

During a panel discussion last month at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center in California, Ellie Mitchell, director of the Maryland Out of School Time Network, said statistics support that the majority of children involved in after-school programs are more likely to stay in school.

Extending the learning

Students involved in a Lego Robotics club at T.C. Martin Elementary School in Bryantown do not have an issue staying in school, or even showing up early — part of it meets before school.

“It’s totally worth the extra hour of sleep” that’s sacrificed, Rupert Stephens, 9, said of getting to school at 7:30 a.m. every Thursday. The Lego Robotics club is made up of about 15 students and teacher volunteers who work with Mindstorms Lego products to build and program robots for a competition held in the spring. In addition to the early start on Thursday, the club meets after school on Tuesdays.

“I really like technology, I’m very good at technology and am good at making things move forward,” Rupert said.

Students said they did not mind staying after school to be part of the club, and that they like using the programming tools to work on the projects.

Patrick West, 11, said one benefit of the Lego Robotics club is that “if you don’t understand a lot of math, you can come here and make [math] a little easier.”

Recently, participants were challenged to program robots to go 60 inches forward, turn the robot left, then have it go forward again, followed by yet another left before making its way to its original location.

Students were enthusiastically scribbling math equations on a chalkboard and paper and typing into a computer until they came up with the right numbers to program into the robot to perform the task.

Hitting the books — more

Students signed up in an extended-day Title I program at Patuxent and Appeal elementary schools in Lusby are using after-school hours to focus on reading and math.

Recently at a family math night at Patuxent, students and their families used the hours to enjoy a pizza dinner and play math-related carnival games.

Regular sessions do not always mean pizza, though. Each Monday and Wednesday, Patuxent teacher Amanda Haggerty works with students on reading and math, carving out a little time for homework, too. Students meet twice a week and have a healthy snack before activities begin.

There are 23 Patuxent students and 18 Appeal students participating in the program.

“It’s fun because they teach you more math. … You’ll learn new stuff you never knew before,” said Kayla Flemming, 9.

Kayla’s mother, Teresa Magruder of Lusby, said she really likes the program. She has seen an improvement in Kayla’s grades, and Magruder is able to be more involved at the school through the program’s family nights.

Darrell Countiss of Lusby said he is really enjoying the program for his daughter and also has seen an improvement in her grades.

Imani Simon, 9, said the difference between learning math in school and at the after-school program is that “you have more teachers to help you” once classes are dismissed for the day.

Running toward a goal

The Tiara Troopers at George Washington Carver Elementary School in Lexington Park use the hours after classes to pound the pavement.

A program that gets a boost in funding from Booz Allen Hamilton, a defense contractor, the girls — with help from community volunteers — are training to compete in 5K races twice a year.

The running competition “makes you feel so important,” said Erica Reece, 9, of the Tiara Troopers at the school. “You don’t sit there and say, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t run.’”

Rihana Allston, a Booz Allen Hamilton employee, is one of the leaders of the Tiara Troopers. Allston said the girls train for six to 10 weeks to compete in runs in the fall and spring. Recently, several girls participated in a run in St. Mary’s City to support Special Olympics. In the spring, the girls will participate as a group in the annual Hospice of St. Mary’s 5K run in Leonardtown.

With $3,000 from Booz Allen and support and funding through a 21st Century Community Learning Center program grant, the girls each get a pair of running shoes, a T-shirt and registration into the races.

“It’s mostly about running,” said Alisha Day, 8.

But along with the physical activity, Allston said the group provides the girls with boosts in self-esteem and leadership skills while encouraging teamwork.

The Tiara Troopers is a breakout group of another 21st Century-funded program called the Dream Team.

Michelle Donohue, site director for the Dream Team at Carver, said there are about 60 students registered for the after-school program. The Dream Team program provides snacks, games, homework time, activities, field trips and transportation home after the program.

Dream Team programs are run at three schools and the Carver Recreation Center and serve about 300 students, said Mark Smith, coordinator of special programs for St. Mary’s County Public Schools.

Providing something to do

Alyssa Price, 12, and her brother, Thomas, 8, spend time hanging out at the Bayside Boys & Girls Club in North Beach. The northern Calvert location is one of the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Maryland’s clubhouses.

Thomas said at the clubhouse participants can get in some exercise, play outside, make up games and do other fun things while also spending time on homework and eating snacks.

If not at the after-school program, Thomas said he would be sleeping.

“I’d rather be here,” he said.

Homework time at the clubhouse is called Power Hour, and it gives students a chance to start on their homework or polish it off for the night.

“We don’t profess that we’ll get it all done,” said Joy Hill Whitaker, chief development officer with the Boys & Girls Club.

Whitaker said education is important at the after-school program.

“We understand our children will never excel if they don’t get the basics,” she said.

Program assistant Charlana Edmonds said a lot of the participants at the clubhouse, if not at Bayside, “don’t have anything to do in the afternoon” and that the club tries to provide children with different things to do.

Even teens participate at the club in a program called junior training, Edmunds said. They train to be program assistants like her.

“I would recommend [the Boys & Girls Club] because it’s fun and you can meet new friends,” she said.

The facts behind the fun

According to State-by-State Afterschool Progress Reports and Consumer Guide, Maryland earned a 3 on a 5-point scale for 2011 when it comes to providing after-school programs and activities to all children who need them.

The report states that Maryland is one of 20 states to receive a 3. No state received a 5. The progress report considered data collected in the 2009 America After 3 p.m. household survey.

Programs in Southern Maryland run the range from credit-recovery programs for high school students to enrichment programs. There also are recreational programs and subject-specific clubs — like a chess club at Beach Elementary School in Chesapeake Beach or Explorers Post 1658/Learning for Life, which is a program offered by the Charles County Sheriff’s Office for teens interested in police work.

One of the biggest problems organizations in the area face is finding the funding for after-school programs.

Smith, of St. Mary’s public schools, said one of the largest funding sources area programs can pull from is the 21st Century Learning Center, a federal program currently providing $15 million for after-school programs across the country.

Almost 200 students in St. Mary’s County were affected this year when one of the 21st Century grants — used for a Bright Futures program, which provided after-school activities with transportation home — was not renewed.

Mitchell, of the Out of School Time Network, said the 21st Century program (part of the No Child Left Behind Act) is at risk of being repurposed. The state will decide what to do, Mitchell said. One option might be to use the grant to try to extend the school day.

Additional funding comes from local businesses, state agencies and other organizations. The Tri-County Youth Services Bureau makes use of community partnerships to provide after-school programs in all three Southern Maryland counties.

While Pat Wheeler, program director for a School Success Center after-school program in Prince Frederick, said it doesn’t cost much to start a program, snacks and field trip fees add up, which makes finding funding sources important.

Transportation is another issue, Smith said. If programs could find funding to provide transportation to and from programs, more children likely would be able to attend. The School Success Center is community-based, and the nearly dozen participants are able to walk to and from it each week.

gphillips@somdnews.com