The Sykesville Middle School principal would like to make the school building a community resource center open year-round. A $114,000 state grant the school applied for would be a start, extending the school day a few hours every afternoon with after-class activities for children in grades six through eight.
"Children this age need activity and so many of them are restricted after school to the inside of their homes until their parents get home," said Principal Donald Pyles.
"This is idle time with TV as the biggest outlet. They need a place to go to be involved with their friends. It would be so much better for their development," he said.
That place should be school, a familiar, safe building with well-maintained athletic fields and a new media center, he said. After-school activities would not be more academics, but enrichment classes, sports, art, books, maybe opera, bird-watching or floral design.
"Afternoons are prime time for youth getting into trouble," said Jolene Sullivan, director of the county Department of Citizen Services. "We need to provide meaningful, viable activities."
The Local Management Board, a 20-member panel appointed by the county commissioners to promote the well-being of children and families, will plan and evaluate the program.
Members chose Sykesville from among the county's nine middle schools based on its history of parent involvement and community activism.
"We have found after-school programs to be a big concern with area parents," said Lloyd Helt, chairman of the board and former Sykesville mayor. "We have a building here and we have the money. Now we need ideas. If we develop a good program here in Sykesville, the project will spread."
The first ideas were from nearly 700 Sykesville pupils who listed activities that would entice them. Basketball, soccer and movies won the most votes.
"The children chose things they knew, but this program could open their horizons," said Pyles. "Maybe they will be more into Shakespeare."
About 50 people gathered at the school Monday evening to review the pupils' survey and offer suggestions.
"We want to build activities that develop skills and a passion for life," said Lynda Gainor, who helped develop after-school programs at three Westminster schools. "These programs help our kids develop passions for the good things so they can stay away from the bad."
The ideas developed quickly from an enthusiastic audience that included parents, pastors, librarians, police officers and teachers.
Lynn Ronayne, town parks and recreation director, wanted a program that would allow "kids to escape a little. They need activities to take their minds off things and help them come down from what has occupied them during the rest of the day."
The program could include lessons in baby-sitting skills or pet obedience training. A cooking class could lead to a community dinner. A walking club that would trek through downtown or along the Patapsco River could combine lessons in civics, history, geography and ecology.
One sixth-grader made a pitch for a drama club.
"Drama lets kids be expressive," said Jamie Shinault, 12. "It develops self-confidence and gives a chance to perform before crowds."
Sgt. Onas Jansen offered assistance from the municipal Police Department.
"The majority of our contact with these kids is through juvenile mischief," said Jansen. "Our department would support any program that puts kids into cultural and academic projects."