Summer means more free time for students, but teenagers and pre-teens often need constructive things to do to stave off boredom and mischief.
"One of the hardest things about being a parent is leaving your kids somewhere and not having the peace of mind as to whether they're going to be safe and whether they're going to have fun," said Alexis Shuder, public information specialist for the city of St. Petersburg.
"I learned a lot about being a better parent by learning about the programs and seeing the things they do with children, like getting involved with the community," said Shuder, 48. Her son Josh, 14, has been going to the city's recreation centers before and after-school program and summer camps since first grade.
"When children are very young," Shuder said, "you know they need to be cared for. When they get to be around 11 years old, people tend to think, 'Oh, they're okay to be left alone now.'
"Guess what? That's the age where they need the most supervision," Shuder said.
"When it comes to their freedom, they can take the same amount of energy and intelligence and use it to get into trouble as they can being put on the right path. Our coaches are all about keeping kids in positive environments and they're supervised all the time."
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At the city's 11 recreation centers, camps offer more than 100 classes at any given time in addition to field trips.
Youth camp is for students entering first to sixth grade, and teen camp is for seventh- and eighth-graders. There's also a drop-in program for high school students.
Andy Chee, 28, was part of the drop-in program when he was in high school. He said he appreciated the great role models who enforced positive behavior and showed him the value of having a good working relationship with the community. Chee has been a teen supervisor for almost seven years at J.W. Cate Recreation Center.
"We like to see our participants getting involved in community service projects, it gives them a sense of ownership within their community and, hopefully, when they are older, they will want to continue this way of life," Chee said.
Each month the centers participate in a community service activity. During the summer, some of the campers will participate in "Scrubbin Da' Burg," a city cleanup and beautification program, which includes a party as a reward for participants.
Nicholas Adams, 13, says he has been having fun and making friends at the recreation centers since he was in kindergarten. "All the coaches are able to go on a one-to-one level with the kids, and understand what's happening, and answer any questions," Nicholas said.
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About 1,375 kids use the recreation centers during the school year, said Richard Craft, the city's recreation manager. "During the summer our numbers increase to 2,850," he added.
Teens don't pay during the school year for the after-school program, Craft said. And during the summer, most don't pay for camp, either, thanks in part to a grant from the Juvenile Welfare Board, which pays for the staff for the programs.
One specialty camp that is popular with teens is Teens Art Social and Cultural Operation (TASCO).
The technology group stays busy learning photography, graphic arts, digital audio, videography and more.
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To learn more
There is a tier structure for enrollment, which beganFriday. Call 727-893-7441 or go to www.stpete.org.
The Azalea Recreation Center offers therapeutic recreation programs for people with illnesses and disabilities.
All recreation centers are designated Safe Places, even if children are not enrolled in a program.