After-school center beats hanging out

Things to do after school in Westminster if you're a sixth-, seventh- or eighth-grader:

* Go to your grandmother's house and wait for Mom to pick you up when she gets off work. Borrrriiinnnggg.


* Hang out downtown with your friends, which can be fun for a while, but if you go to the library and socialize the library staff gets upset. Bummer.

* Go to the new city recreation department's after-school program at Longwell Municipal Center. Generally fun.


The recreation program is "something to do after school," said Katie Underwood, 11, a sixth-grader at East Middle School. If she weren't at the center, she said she would be "probably sitting home bored and doing homework."

Larissa Femiano, 11, a sixth-grader at East Middle School, said the program is "very fun and I don't have to go to the baby sitter's, which I hate."

The after-school program, which opened in September, is a response to library staff complaints that middle school students congregated in the library in the afternoons, disturbing other patrons.

"They'd been in school all day and they had a lot of energy to release," said Gail Griffith, the library's associate director.

The students were not troublemakers, but their sheer numbers and desire to socialize created disruption, said Delores Maminski, Westminster branch librarian.

She said the staff has seen a sharp drop in the number of middle school students who come to the library after school since the program opened in mid-September.

The city recreation staff put together an after-school activities program that "pretty much eliminates the latchkey, and I think that's a real good idea," said Kristin Walters, program coordinator.

The program operates on weekdays from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and is open to students from East and West Middle Schools and St. John's School, a Westminster Catholic elementary and middle school.


l Students can play basketball, football, whiffle ball or floor hockey in the gym, although the competition for a chance to play can be tough for girls.

On one recent afternoon, a group of boys raced into the gym, started basketball games and began tossing a Nerf football.

The girls were shut out of the action, though some wandered along the sidelines looking for a chance to get involved.

Jessie Miller, 11, a sixth-grader from East Middle School, tried to get into the games.

She hung out in the gym and suggested some games, but finally gave up and drifted back to the soda machine.

It can be difficult, she said. "Sometimes they just don't let us [play] because they don't think we can."


During a break in the action, several boys said Jessie's assessment was accurate. "Hotshot guys" won't let girls into the games because they don't think girls play as well, said Ian Redding, 11, a sixth-grader from East Middle School.

Sometimes the guys do get overbearing, said Miss Walters.

"If it does happen that the girls want to get involved and the guys are like 'Naaaahhh,' " Miss Walters said, "we step in and say, 'Hey, everyone can play in this gym, so let them play.' "

The recreation center houses a game room with bumper pool and speed-shooting basketball games. In other rooms, students can do homework or watch TV or movies -- G or PG-rated only.

"A lot of kids want 'Terminator 2,' but some don't and some parents don't want them to see it," Miss Walters said.

The $1 daily admission charge covers salaries for the four high school students and two college students who organize games and activities. Three are on duty each day, supervised by Miss Walters and Mrs. Donovan. They were not trained, but Miss Walters said all but one have experience working with younger children in summer recreation programs or working as lifeguards.


Sometimes the middle school students just want to talk, Miss Walters said.

Tomorrow's election has generated debates among partisans of Bush, Clinton and Perot and debates on the abortion law referendum on the Maryland ballot.

"The discussions we get into are friendly. I'm not a teacher telling them what they should think," Miss Walters said.

Most of the students are gone by 5:30 p.m., many of them picked up by parents who stop to take a look at the recreation center.

Comments so far have been favorable, Miss Walters said.