Summer Blast – at the Boys & Girls Club in Gardner
By Andrew Mansfield
Posted Jul 23, 2018
GARDNER — The Boys & Girls Club has expanded the ways children can stay engaged over vacation by bringing a Summer Blast to Gardner.
The club is in the midst of running the seven-week program at the Gardner Middle School, which has been offered at no cost to families. The city’s Recreation Department is also helping out.
Children from age 8 to 12 are participating in a wide variety of activities covering the program’s STEAM curriculum, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
“Here in Gardner, we thought it would be a great opportunity to have a free event all summer,” said Isaiah Jasmin from the Boys & Girls Club.
Jasmin is the club’s team leader for running the program, which he coordinates with the help of a few other staff members.
He said about 50 children have signed up for the program, with around 35-45 showing up on any given day. Free breakfast and lunch is provided by the nonprofit Spanish American Center.
The program runs five days a week, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. It began earlier this month and will conclude on Aug. 17.
Since 2015, the Boys & Girls Club of Gardner has run an afterschool program during the school year at Gardner High School, but this is the first time the Summer Blast program has also been held in Gardner.
The Gardner club is sponsored by the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, which has its own facility in Leominster.
On Monday, the ability to do outdoor activities was affected by the rainy weather, but inside Gardner Middle School there were several things going on.
One of them was a science experience involving the children placing an egg into a container with vinegar, which gradually dissolves the calcium of the egg shell.
The process softens the egg and it becomes bouncy like a rubber ball, creating a fun experiment.
Destiny Goguen, 10, spoke about the program’s science and art activities as being among her favorites.
“The club makes sure you’re always having fun, and if you’re bored they give you many options,” she said.
Another student in attendance was 8-year-old Jeremias Rodriguez.
“What I really like about this thing is they do most of the stuff that I really like,” he said. “Even when it’s rainy outside they always find something fun to do.”
In particular, Rodriguez said, he enjoys working on bicycles, another activity the program offers. Jasmin explained that the Gardner Police Department was kind enough to donate lost bikes that went unclaimed.
Having the bikes is a way to teach children how to ride, but also for club staff to go over with the children the mechanics of bikes and how to fix them.
For example, Rodriguez said he has practiced repairing bike chains and tightening handlebars.
Other activities the children have participated in that Jasmin spoke of include reading, gardening and playing sports and games such as chess.
On a weekly basis, the program visits Camp Collier in Gardner, where the Gardner children meet with the children from Fitchburg and Leominster and get to swim and go canoeing, among other activities.
This Friday, Jasmin said, the Gardner participants will take a special field trip to the planetarium at Framingham State University where they will simulate a space mission.
“Science is an avenue where we want to have their minds be open to,” he said.
Also new to Gardner this summer, the city has created a recreation director position along with hiring some summer staff. Those positions are funded on a part-time basis.
To make it happen, Mayor Mark Hawke was able to commit over $60,000 of city funds in the fiscal 2019 budget, which the City Council then approved.
The move was prompted by the fact that Mount Wachusett Community College, which had run a summer program for a number of years at city playgrounds with the help of grant funding, did not get grant funds for this summer.
Serving as the recreation director is Dan Forte, who also serves as the athletic director for the schools.
Due to his role expanding, he explained, he no longer is serving as a high school gym teacher.
His salary as recreation director is paid through the city, and his salary as athletic director is paid through the school budget.
For this summer, Forte said, the city is partnering with the Boys & Girls Club to enhance the program at the middle school.
That has allowed children to participate in even more programming, as his staff has been teaching the science of sports, covering topics such as reaction time.
Then the children get to actually play sports, such as soccer, basketball and even bocce.
“It’s a lot of play, but learning while they play,” Forte said.
Among the staff members for the summer program is Caitlin Bosse, a 2016 Gardner High School graduate who now attends Westfield State University where she said she is studying physical education and coaching.
On Monday she was helping to coach the children in a game of basketball in the school gym. One of the things she said she taught them was to understand the probability of being able to make different shots on the court.
That suggests the children learned that lay-ups are the highest percentage shot, but then again if they’ve ever watched NBA superstar Steph Curry, they probably think three-pointers look easy.