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New after-school program on tap for two Pasco County middle schools

By Jeffrey Solochek
Pasco County's new middle school after-school program could feature robotics and other enrichment activities, in addition to homework help. [Times | 2012]

Two Pasco County middle schools that dismiss before 2 p.m. daily plan to offer after-school programs in the fall, offering a supervised option for the youngsters who might otherwise have little to do until their parents get home from work.

If approved by the School Board on Tuesday, Beyond the Bell would operate at Rushe and River Ridge middle schools for four hours after classes end. It would cost $50 per week, with lower fees for students who want to come for single days or special activities.

The district has not offered an afternoon program for middle schools in more than 20 years. It attempted to open one at Pine View Middle twice in the 1990s, but shuttered the effort amid low enrollment.

"We weren't able to be self-sustaining," said Mary Grey, director of the district's Pasco Learning & Activity Centers of Enrichment (PLACE) program.

After surveying families in the Rushe and River Ridge communities, which requested the after-school homework help and activities, Grey figured the initiative will gain more traction.

"Times have changed," she said, noting that many parents have greater interest in ensuring their children have something constructive to do with some supervision.

Still in the planning stages, the program is expected to have teachers to help with school work, as well as other staff to lead enrichment activities that could include music, art, robotics, sports and languages. It would run on school days only.

The schools will have classroom space for Beyond the Bell, and also provide access to computer labs and other resources, Grey said.

"We're not going to be jammed in anywhere," she said.

To begin providing information publicly, PLACE already has launched a website and Facebook page. Just from that, Grey said, "we are already hearing from parents at other schools" who are interested.

She said the plan is to see how it works at Rushe and River Ridge, then decide whether to expand.