‘Nerds’ and readers find their niche after school

Margaret Hurt
Special to Black Mountain News

For sixth-grade English language arts teacher Caroline Ayers, the school day can be long and draining. But it’s also filled with purpose when she sees excitement from her sixth-grade students, both during and after school.

Like many teachers whose school day extends far beyond the 3 p.m. dismissal bell., Ayers often leaves Owen Middle School around 5 p.m., having arrived that morning at 6:45 a.m.

Nowadays, many local teachers at schools devote their time and energy to after-school clubs, affording students opportunities to learn new skills, explore subjects and connect with students and teachers in unique ways that are quite different from what happens in the traditional classroom.

Close to 15 after-school clubs are starting up at Owen Middle. Club options include coding, chess, sewing, string instruments, Nerd Club, Student Council, Battle of the Books, Science Olympiad, Kiwanis Builder’s Club and Warren Wilson Wednesday science club. Most run for an hour to an hour and a half and are coordinated by one or more staff members.

Though Owen Middle may be more generous in offerings, other schools have after-school offerings. At Black Mountain Elementary, there is chorus, chess club, Garden Club, Battle of the Books, Reader’s Odyssey, Girls on the Run, Sweet Reads parent/child book club and Kiwanis Kids service club.

“When teachers see a need at Owen Middle, they come up with a way to offer the club,” Ayers said. Last year, she organized a sign language club to help both her hearing-impaired student get more involved in the school and her other students be able to communicate with him.

“Middle-schoolers are at a place in life trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in,” she said. “One of our important jobs as educators is to help them explore interests outside of academics and to learn what they like and where they may be gifted. It’s also very helpful for a teacher to work with a student outside of the classroom subjects, because when they find something they are really interested in, they can become a very different student.

After-school clubs are also a great way for kids to meet new people and to interact with students in other grades, helping them feel more a part of the school. “It’s worth my time because it means a lot to the students (who) want to be there, and I know they would be really disappointed if it were canceled,” Ayers said.

The after-school opportunities can be a wonderful resource also for parents, seeing as how expensive out-of-school events like private music lessons and sport coaching can be. School-related after-school events typically come with little to no fee attached.

This year, Owen Middle is partnering with the chemistry department at Warren Wilson College to provide an after-school club, Warren Wilson Wednesdays, where students will conduct science labs and explore chemistry with college students and professors.

“Owen Middle School staff collaborated with Warren Wilson College staff to write a grant and make this happen,” Principal Heidi Von Dohlen said. “Fortunately through this grant, we are also able to provide transportation home via bus. We’ll send one bus to Swannanoa and one to Black Mountain. This way, transportation will not be a barrier to any student participating.

“One thing that sets Owen Middle School apart from other middle schools is the number of after-school clubs that we offer. Our staff genuinely loves to teach kids and gives up personal time to provide enriching activities for our students after school.

“As middle school educators, we need to connect student with a love for learning,” said VonDohlen. “These experiences happen both inside and outside of the classroom.”