A state grant could help the South Carroll community provide much-needed after-school activities for its sixth- through eighth-graders, county officials said.
"It is the critical age and a critical time," said Sykesville Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols, a mother of four. "Kids who have nothing to do will find something to do."
The grant, which could be as much as $114,000, would provide programs beginning this fall at Sykesville Middle School. Residents, school and town officials, and business leaders will meet at the school today to discuss after-school opportunities that could include sports, art, music and technology.
"This is not a program to replace child care," said Mary M. Scholz, administrator of the county Department of Citizen Services. "We want to involve youths with their families so they can be more successful academically and socially. These programs have been proven to reduce negative outcomes like substance abuse, teen pregnancy, juvenile arrests and drop-outs."
Of the county's nine middle schools, officials chose Sykesville because it showed a high level of community involvement and need, Scholz said. The agency mailed 1,200 invitations, hoping for a large turnout today.
"We have found many services for the very young and for elementary students, but there are fewer services from middle school on," Scholz said. "Children tend to become more vulnerable at transition points, such as between elementary and middle school."
Sykesville pupils completed surveys that asked how they would like to fill their afternoons. Those responses will be discussed at today's meeting.
"We don't want to offer just a place to hang out," Scholz said. "This will not be a drop-off-and-back-later place, either. We want parent and community involvement. This program can really get the community thinking about how everybody can give and get at the same time."
The activities can cross generations. For years, the school has sent pupil volunteers to homes for the elderly.
Organizers are looking into the possibility of pupils training senior citizens on computers and getting historical perspectives in return.
Volunteers and donations from businesses could stretch the program's budget, which will be based on state grant money. Today's meeting is designed to help determine who can offer their talents and interests to the project.
A successful program needs strong support from the school, the community and local government, Scholz said. Several town officials have said they plan to become involved.
The after-school activities, which typically run from dismissal to 5: 30 p.m. from Monday through Thursday, would charge participants "affordable fees," Scholz said. Waivers will be available, based on need.
Planners can be flexible about schedules, Scholz said. Much depends on community response, but transportation and light meals might be built into the program.
The state has made $114,000 available for a local after-school program. A successful program could win additional grants, said Colleen Baumgardner, county senior grants analyst.
"We want to see what the community wants in terms of after-school activities and what areas lack services," Baumgardner said. "We need input from the community, the PTO and students."
For Nichols, who serves on the town's recreation board, the program will provide another opportunity to make use of school space.
"We have a wonderful resource right here in the school building," she said. "We should be using it more often. It does not make sense leaving it empty."
The meeting begins at 7 p.m. today in the school cafeteria, 7301 Springfield Ave. Information: 410- 386-3600.