Club runs after-school program for middle-school students at Gardner High
By Andrew Mansfield
The Gardner News
November 11, 2015
GARDNER – The Boys & Girls Club has made its way to Gardner, giving a new generation of kids another option for after-school activities.
“It’s really fun. There’s robotics, computers and art. You can do your homework and have snacks,” said Neffy Pereira, a participant of the new pilot program run by the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster.
The club is for fifth through seventh-graders from Gardner Middle School and hosts 20 children. It takes place over the entire school year every day at Gardner High School from 2:30 to 5 p.m.
The focus of the club is STEAM, standing for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. During every session, children complete their homework, have a snack and then take part in a group activity.
Donata Martin, executive director for the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, helped coordinate the effort to bring a club to Gardner.
She said the children will have the opportunity to try their hand at a variety of learning experiences, such as computer coding and tapping maple trees.
“Children love science. We have a lot of hands-on activities, but homework is first,” she said.
Many of the people instructing the children have experience in the computer or science fields.
Mike Scherer has worked for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and taught environmental science at Northeastern University.
Now retired, Mr. Scherer has been a Boys & Girls Club volunteer for many years.
On Tuesday, he led children in viewing samples of soil, bugs and fallen leaves under microscopes.
“Right now, we’re just introducing them to the equipment, but later on we’ll go outside,” he said.
He plans to lead the children in viewing samples of surface water to see the microscopic life and teach them about the importance of conservation.
Parents were able to sign their kids up for the club at no cost.
“I talked to a lot of them (parents) and they were very excited,” Ms. Martin said.
Dave Mercier signed up his sixth-grade son Dylan for the club. During his childhood, Mr. Mercier was a part of the Boys & Girls Club in Lowell for 10 years.
“What that did for me was build structure, a safe place to go. It was a wonderful treat and I’ll never forget it. I would love to see my kids grow up in the Boys & Girls Club system,” he said.
Ms. Martin said fundraising efforts and private donations from groups such as the Community Foundation of North Central Massachusetts provided capital to establish a Gardner Boys & Girls Club.
She also said collaboration between the school district, Mount Wachusett Community College President Dan Asquino and Heywood Hospital helped advocate for the founding of a Gardner club.
“What it means to us is everything,” she said.
Superintendent Denise Clemons said the club will help the school district meet its goal of making its children college and career ready.
“This is basically a trajectory. We (the schools) are like the groomers for the next employees,” she said.