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Partnerships bolster New Hampton's afterschool program

Boys and girls enrolled in New Hampton Community School's Project Promise after school program have enjoyed a new partnership the program has developed with Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. Last week Senior Naturalist Dave Erler introduced them to a tiny Saw-Whet owl that can be found in the state's alpine regions. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
April 03, 2019
NEW HAMPTON – The New Hampton Community School's afterschool program has formed several educational partnerships this year that are bringing new experiences and new knowledge to their students and last week boys and girls enjoyed one of several visits scheduled from Dave Erler, the Senior Naturalist at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center.

Through a 21st Century Grant awarded to the Project Promise after school program at NHCS, Erler and the staff of SLNC have signed on for seven visits with the students, and last week, he brought some owls along with him.

Beginning with one of New Hampshire's largest owls, the Great Horned Owl, Erler explained the habitat they prefer, the importance of their physical attributes and what types of food they like to eat. The boys and girls were excited to see a Great Horned Owl up close and had plenty of questions about the bird. Erler then introduced them to a beautiful Barred Owl, one commonly seen in this area, and a tiny Saw-Whet Owl, more commonly spotted in higher alpine regions of the state. With each he pointed out some of their differences that help them adapt to their diet and location.

NHCS's third grade teacher Shelley is also the coordinator of the school's Project Promise program. She said 42 students, nearly a third of the school population, take part in the after school program, which runs from 2-5:30 p.m. each school day.

"This is a great resource for parents who work. They know the building, they know the teachers and they know their child is in a safe place until they get out of work," Doucette said. "Most of all, it's very important to us that our students themselves have a say in what we do here."

It does make for a long day for the students so at the beginning of each school year the students present their ideas on what activities and projects they would like to do. When reasonable, Doucette works to make it all possible.

Animals are always popular with students, as she well knows through the bearded dragon and a tank of crayfish in her classroom and the baby chicks they hatch each year.

"We're researching animals in my class this year so I thought it would be great to bring some more in through Squam Lakes," she said.

Math is a subject not known to be a lot of fun for some boys and girls, so Doucette has also partnered with Christine Hunewell at Gordon Nash Library this year. The students take walking trips to the library, are able to get a library card and weekly Bedtime Math sessions back at the school with Hunewell are very popular.

"It's great that we can have her here because it not only helps the students but it connects families with the library," she said.

Another great partnership the NHCS Project Promise has formed is with nearby New Hampton School and their high school students. Throughout the year athletes will come play games with the boys and girls, members of the art program help with crafts, while others will stop in to read a book or help with homework.

"That's great for them (the NHS students) and great for us, too, because we reap all the benefits of having them right here in our town," said Doucette.

The program offers several sessions throughout the year so participants always have something new to look forward to. From the beginning of the school year until October there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy while in the winter they move back indoors for community service and other fun projects. One of the endeavors they chose this year was to hold a food drive and make fleece blankets for animals at the New Hampshire Humane Society. The students also performed random acts of kindness for their teachers this year, such as sharpening their pencils, straightening up bookshelves and washing the desks.

"It was a bunch of different little things that the kids felt good about doing for their teachers," Doucette said.

The children also enjoy STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) projects, and even learn how to prepare healthy snacks like English muffin pizzas and apple quesadillas. Soon they will hold a spring cleanup of the school grounds to experience the pride found in taking ownership of their school.

Doucette said there are also occasional field trips and this year the students requested a trip to the movie theater and another to a pumpkin patch. Then at the end of the school year they will take a traditional trip to play mini-golf.

With so many activities and so many participants there is one final partnership that makes the program a success though, and that are the two NHCS teachers, two student volunteers from Plymouth State University and two PSU students enrolled in the teaching program who work along with Doucette for Project Promise. Their assistance provides the children with the quality care and enrichment they deserve.

"It can be a long day sometimes; we have such a great time together though that it's worth it. I really enjoy being here each day and thank all of those who make it all possible," said Doucette.

Varney Smith
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