The Freshman Success Academy has moved to the Junction City High School building, opening up space at the H.D. Karns building.
This has offered USD 475’s Boys and Girls Club the space it needed for years to expand, according to Boys and Girls Club Director James Russell.
“The main thing is, we’re going to be able to take more kids,” he said.
The group, which provides after school support and activities to students in kindergarten through grade 12, has gone from having three classrooms worth of space to having a computer lab, exercise rooms, game rooms and multiple rooms for activities of all kinds, encapsulating a wide variety of student interests and needs.
Russell hopes to include more intramural sports activities in the group’s repertoire.
There are separate spaces upstairs for elementary school-aged students and space downstairs for teenagers. There is now a designated kindergarten-first grade room, a room for students in third through fourth grade, and spaces just for junior high and high school students. In total, the group now has 11 rooms.
There are electronics-focused areas where students can do podcasts and learn videography — all useful skills in the modern world. The newly-added computer lab can be used to teach math, science, reading, and other subjects grade kindergarten through eight. The group has set up a small makeshift movie theater. This summer, they used the space to put on a play, the Three Little Pigs.
There is a kitchen area that will be utilized to teach children to make healthy snacks.
There is space for them to learn music — everything, according to Russell, from African drums to keyboards and guitars.
There will be a small shop where children can “spend” points they earn by staying on task and behaving themselves. Other students will have the chance to run the store and learn to count money and give change.
Children can also play games on a Wii, work with robotics kits, do science projects, try a flight simulator, work with Roby the robot, or play traditional games such as 1980s arcade games checkers and chess.
“We taught kids all the way from second grade up how to play chess and they love to play chess,” Russell said.
New additions include game rooms for children of every age group the club serves — including tiny pool tables and exercise bikes for smaller children in their spaces.
“What’s really nice is to have access to the gym,” Russell said. “Teens don’t want to stay in classrooms after the bell rings, if you don’t give them something physical to do, then they’re not going to do it.”
Offering children something physical to do is good for their health, but also for their mental and academic wellbeing. One of the younger children’s classrooms has a trampoline in it — well-used over the summer, according to Russell.
Being able to move allows students to burn excess energy and stress built up over a day of classroom time.
“The gross motor skills helps,” Russell said. “The physical activity is — it’s just a release of stress. You know how we all want to go home and maybe go to the gym and work out and stuff? Where do kids get to do that? There’s no place for them.”
Many of the workout facilities in town, he said, are geared more to older people.
Being able to be physically active in the classroom can help students be better able to focus on their academic work.
“We have a lot of hands-on stuff,” he said. “We use 20 minutes of every day assisting with homework.”
Students, he said, can sit back and do their homework in recliners or on the floor — which they often do first thing when they come in.
There are about 60 students signed up for the program and there’s room for more.
All of these lessons — including the job-skill building activities such as robotics, science skills and broadcasting skills — are lessons the Boys and Girls Club has wanted to teach in the past.
Now Russell and his team have the space to do it.
“It teaches them everything,” he said. “We’re very academically-based, which is because we’re connected with the school system. But it helps them focus on life, it lets them know all the different things that are out there for them. It’s absolutely a positive enrichment as well as supporting academics.”
It provides a safe, positive place for children in the community.
“You know your kids are safe, you know they’re in a positive environment, you don’t have to worry about them,” he said.