Project FOCUS offers after-school option for students

BALDWIN — When the bell rings at the end of the school day, not every Baldwin Community Schools student heads for home. Pupils in the Project FOCUS program enjoy a meal, homework help and guided activities.

Project FOCUS — For Our Children's Ultimate Success — is an outreach of True North Community Services, a non-profit human services agency based in Newaygo County. The program operates from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday during the school year and from noon to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday during intercession periods.

"When the kids get there, we provide them with a warm supper, they get homework help and this year, we're leaning toward doing a lot of things teaching them about careers," said Katena Abraham, after-school coordinator and site leader for Baldwin. "We're centering a lot of our activities on college and career opportunities."

The program has one adult for every 15 children, and can accept 75 students in its after-school program. With additional help from Baldwin teachers, the intercession programs accept up to 100 students.

This year's focus is called Goal 2025, Abraham said.

"Our expectation is by 2025, all our students will be doing some kind of trade or going to some kind of college after high school," she said. "This is a whole new curriculum we're doing, even at kindergarten age.

"Just to give an example of what we do, we've got a lady who is focusing on farms. She's working with first- and second-graders, and talking about the different jobs on a farm and the different animals that might be on a farm. Another person on staff used to be an airline flight attendant, so she's teaching about aviation and some of the different jobs within that field."

The focus during the program is on inquiry-based learning, which involves the students in fun activities and they don't realize they're learning, Abraham said. For example, a cooking activity would reinforce measurements and math skills.

Project FOCUS is funded by Baldwin Community Schools and The Fremont Foundation, Abraham noted. As site leader, she oversees the staff, serves as a liaison to the school district and manages the program budget.

Though Project FOCUS is currently at capacity, Abraham encourages interested parents to sign their students up on the waiting list.

"Over half of the students here are signed up for the program, and as things happen and people move or we bring on more staff, openings occur," Abraham said. "I would like parents to go ahead and sign up their kids so they're on the waiting list — they may be able to get in."