Let’s Go Clubbing! A Look at Beach Elementary Afterschool Clubs

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More and more, public school teachers are compelled and even mandated to provide so much more than instruction in reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. It would be nearly impossible to enumerate all that a teacher might do for a child on any given day, but let’s just say that often, what they do has very little to do with the three R’s and more to do with life skills and beyond.

At Beach Elementary, the teachers’ day starts long before the kids arrive, and doesn’t end when the last bell rings. That our teachers are appreciated is evident – the school enjoys steady, enthusiastic support from many corners of our community. If all these teachers and the staff did nothing but what took place during school hours, it would be more than sufficient. But the kids have special interests, and so to accommodate those interests, the teachers and parents have joined forces to create afterschool clubs (and one that meets on Wednesday mornings before school starts) that provide the children the opportunity to pursue some of those interests, or to improve their skills in one area or another.

Every Monday, teachers Lori Zamniak and Ginny Fraley, with parent Kim West, meet up with this year’s participants from the Beach School, to get them ready for the county-wide Book Battle. This support team brought last year’s club members all the way to top honors in the 2014-2015 battle in the spring. West, an educator herself, talks about how she feels working alongside the teachers at the Beach School. ”I feel gratitude. They are very selfless and my children benefit immensely from their donation of time and energy.” Kim is no stranger to going the extra mile for the Beach School kids, giving much of her own time and talent in a variety of activities all year.

On Tuesdays, budding thespians in the 4th and 5th grade meet up after school in the Dolphin Cafe with the director of this year’s school play, Rick Sebastian. For anyone who frequented Town Hall up until two years ago when he retired, Rick is a familiar face. “I was the cute receptionist,” he says with his characteristic humor. Having been involved in local theater in Lee County for the past 35 years, performing as an actor or working as crew or director in every venue including Barbara B. Mann Hall and the Broadway Palm Dinner Theater, Sebastian brings his considerable expertise, experience and personal enthusiasm for the stage to the kids. PE and Music teacher Heather “Coach” Ludovico, the faculty advisor for this activity, helps keep things rolling and leads the children in practice for the three songs they will be singing in the show. “The Wizard of Oz” will be performed on Thursday, January 28th and Friday, January 29th. Rick, who has lived on the island for over 30 years says, since his retirement, he has been looking for more things to do “here at my home, Fort Myers Beach. When the opportunity came up to direct the school play, I jumped on it.”

While Dorothy and the Munchkins are running their lines, there is another group set up in the art room with parents Brett Randle and Janna Clark. The kids arrive abubble, excited about their next project in the afterschool Legos Club. Last week, they were constructing fishing poles. Who knew you could build a fishing pole out of Legos? Brett Randle, that’s who. An accountant by trade, Randle was happy to come run this after school club when approached by Principal Wood to do so. “I love Legos,” he says with broad grin. “I loved playing with Legos as a kid.” Active parents in the Beach School community, Brett and Janna work beside Faculty Advisor Cathy Goodacre-Lee helping the kids as they followed the directions for the project. As Randle pointed out, this activity fits in with the STEM model in play in school systems across the country. But for the kids, and the adult helpers, it’s just plain fun.

elementary after school programs fort myers beachOn Wednesday mornings, Principal Wood will be bringing back the popular Math 24 game when the kids get back from Thanksgiving break. Technically not an ‘afterschool’ program, this card game really helps children get to know their math facts in a fun competition. “From 7:25 until 7:55 AM, we play this game,” Wood explains with such enthusiasm, you’d think he was talking about going to Disney World. The children are challenged to take four selected numbers, and using the four basic math operations – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division – get the answer of 24. Wood says there are usually three or four ways to reach the correct answer. “Sometimes they come up with the wrong answer, or with a method I hadn’t come up with – everybody learns something whether they got the right answer or not.” Wood keeps track of attendance, and those students who make it to five ‘math breakfasts’ get an extra treat at lunch. Asked why he volunteered to commit himself to this extra time with the students, given he already has so much on his plate, Wood laughed. “I love math. But it’s not about me. It is a way to challenge and enrich the kids and it gives them a great incentive to learn their math facts. It is just a pleasure to do it. I love it.”

The after school Fitness Club meets Wednesday afternoons, led by Coach Ludovico and school parent Katie Tipton, with parents Kim West and Janna Clark often stopping by to help as well. “We always start with something to get the kids moving,” explains Coach. The kids are split into smaller groups to work on a particular skill, and then together they do the Workout of the Week (WOW).

On Thursdays, teacher Joy Rockwell and school guidance counselor Nancy Ormonte oversee Study Buddies, geared for first and second graders who might need some extra help in one subject or another. While they are giving these children the attention they need, art teacher Holly Nichols has the after school Art Club in full swing each week. Anyone who has attended any school events has been treated to the wonderful and myriad creations inspired by Holly’s instruction and encouragement.

On Fridays, Coach Ludovico oversees the after school Swim Club. As she talks about this activity, it is obvious how much fun it is for her as well as the kids. “Those kids hit the water the minute they get there, and they are moving the whole hour, doing laps and learning all the strokes – even the little guys,” she tells us. “They move… they don’t stop. They do 45 minutes of straight swimming, and then they are learning how to dive. It’s incredible. “   Lodovico hopes they can get to the point where they are having swim meets with other schools. “ We want to be a ’legit’ swim team someday. But obviously, my immediate and ongoing goal is to get the kids familiar with the water. Everyone, no matter who you are, should know how to swim. We want to have that competitive element, but it will always have that recreational, fun element.” Coach, who is assisted by two lifeguards and often, parent Kim West, says she is really impressed with how much the Swim Club kids have learned already. “It’s a lot of fun and gets me active too!”

As always, we come away from the Beach School thoroughly impressed with the level of dedication and willingness to spend extra time with the kids that is so evident among the adults who work or interact with the children everyday. Wow.

Jo List