Washougal middle school students thrive in afterschool activities

Vanessa Farias and Ezria Robinson work on their robot during the Lego Robotics afterschool program.

Washougal WA – There is excitement, creativity and discovery in the air at Jemtegaard Middle School, even after regular school hours.

The JMS Afterschool Program has grown in popularity and participation with more than 100 students choosing to stay late on Tuesdays and Thursdays to explore a variety of new interests and be a part of enriching activities.

“We have several staple programs such as robotics, art, guitar and help with math in four to six week sessions,” explained JMS Principal, David Cooke.  “We also offer Husky Sled Team all year, which is our approach to Associated Student Body (ASB) leadership.  Just like a sled team, it takes teamwork to move forward and accomplish goals.”

Cooke said Husky Sled Team, guided by JMS teacher, Rebecca Bohlin, has helped uncover untapped student resources, especially from 6th grade students.  “In the past these students did not have the opportunity for after school sports or leadership roles until the 7th grade.  Many were leaders in their elementary school and there is no reason to make them wait a year before they can be involved and contribute to their school.”

Husky Sled Team has started planning the first assembly of the year, sold concessions at home Husky football games, helped advertise a school dance, gave tours at the Community Open House, and created a vision for ways to improve the culture of JMS.

“I have been really inspired by these Sled Team students who now have the chance to lead.  They have with such enthusiasm and energy,” said Bohlin.  “They are jumping at the chance to try new things, create programs and events to build the culture at JMS where all students feel accepted, know they are supported, and enjoy school.”

Another popular afterschool offering is art.  Dani Allen, JMS art teacher, is helping students explore graffiti art on posters.  “This time is all about free expression,” Allen explained.  “We provide a creative place for kids to go.  It is a place for them to express themselves freely.”  The group’s next project will be pumpkin sculpting and after that they will create craft projects they can give to friends and family as holiday gifts.

“Beyond the core courses, we also expand into single sessions in a particular area of interest when see student interest and locate a volunteer willing to lead it,” Cooke explained.  One such program was a self-defense class, taught by Jason Hirata.  “This instruction is giving these kids information to draw from if they find themselves in some type of danger,” Cooke said.  “Just helping one child get the tools to know the way out of a difficult situation makes it worth it!”

Teacher Scott Rainey with student Grace West at a guitar afterschool session.

Another special session gave students the chance to learn pickleball.  Local Columbia River Gorge Pickleball Club members brought nets, paddles, balls and expertise to teach the game.  Also, Washougal’s Dayley Dance Academy has taught foundational dance moves to interested students.

“We even have students coming up with their own clubs,” Cooke explained.  “There is a group of Latino students who would like to teach the Spanish language to their peers.”

According to Cooke, a benefit of the program they are seeing is students building community. “These classes and projects are very socially active,” he said.  “Students are able to make new friends based on their interests and the classes offer new ways to connect with teachers.”

An afterschool bus provides transportation to five different stops to help students get home.  JMS Boosters provide snacks before students report to their class.

A group of parents and community members work with Cooke to find interesting topics and the volunteers to teach them.  “We are currently working on a schedule for the year,” Cooke said.   “We would love to hear from people in our community who have a skill or interest they would like to bring to students in this program.”  Community members interested in volunteering their expertise for an afterschool session at JMS should contact the office school at 360-954-3400 for consideration.