BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – Central Elementary School in Bellows Falls has a new, very popular after school program called the “Makers Space.” The idea was introduced and developed by Megan Applegate, who is the executive director of Parks Place, and has two of her own children attending CES.
The program originally came together when Applegate contemplated the idea of a club where students could meet and interact. “I’ve been a volunteer at CES for two years and the after school club was a process that happened over time,” Applegate said. “There is after school care provided by the Meeting Waters YMCA, and I wasn’t looking to replace that wonderful program in any way, but rather finding a way for the older students at Central to explore interests and friendships that they may not have access to otherwise.”
She continued, “I started with the idea of creating a club, much like the ‘runner’s club’ that Central’s gym teacher, Peter Lawry, hosts every year that lets the kids explore different topics and activities for an hour after school. I’m not one to stew on an idea for very long, so within a couple weeks of hatching the idea last November, I met with the new superintendent, Chris Pratt, and pitched the idea. He was enthusiastic about the concept and gave me the go-ahead to take the idea to Central’s principal, Keith Neimlich.”
Applegate received a great response and full support from the principal and by the time students returned from holiday break, the program started less than a week later, focusing on grades second through fourth and with an enthusiastic response from the students. “On ‘Martial Arts Day’ we hovered steadily around 35 to 40 kids,” Applegate said. “Then we had an art lab that averaged about 30 kids per day as well.”
In fact, the Makers Space in the library had to be capped off and eventually split between second graders and third and fourth graders, due to space restraints with each of those sessions averaging around 20 students each. “I thought that interest would taper off as the weather got warmer and spring sports started up,” Applegate added. “But after the school’s spring break, we’re starting our third and final session and we’ve got another full house for the Makers Space programs and our new Playground Club.”
They originally started in January with Makers Space programs with the school librarian, Jody Hauser. The students explored fun STEM activities such as animation, coding, building, and construction. This program was very popular with the kids and was kept in play through the entire school year. Other programs offered included an art lab in which the students worked with various media techniques, as well as the martial arts program taught by Applegate’s husband who is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blackbelt and MMA coach.
“We check in with the kids often and get their feedback because it was one of my intentions that these activities come from the kids. We want to meet them where they are, with whatever interests them. We’ve already started brainstorming for next year’s clubs and it’s looking like it’s going to be a fun year! We’ve got a cake decorating club we’re working on, as well as a jewelry making club we’re putting together that’s the brainchild of one of our second graders. The kids have endless ideas and the energy to see these through. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch where these activities go in the coming year!”
This successful program would not be possible without the support from the teachers who volunteer their classrooms and materials and to the parents. Additionally, there has been support from community partners such as the Central Elementary PTCO, Mascoma Bank, Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, and C&S Wholesale Grocers.