School is more than books for these kids

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


At Washington Middle School in Harrison, nearly 75% of the more than 400 enrolled are just as busy with school-related projects after 3 p.m. as they are during their regular day of classes.

And that’s partly by design of the school administration who made a point this fall of expanding its menu of an already busy after-school extracurricular schedule.

Principal Michael Landy extended an appreciative nod to the Board of Education, acting Superintendent Fred Confessore and his staff for being “tremendously cooperative in supporting all additional programs that we proposed.” Students’ voluntary participation in such activities are important, Landy said, because studies show that there is a positive carryover on the academic side.

“If a student has an extra reason to come to school – if they’re looking forward to being in a club or sport program – it almost always translates to a better performance in the classroom,” he said.

Mixing with other kids can also be instrumental in changing a painfully shy or introverted youngster’s personality, Landy said.

If they’re interacting consistently with a smaller group of peers all sharing a common interest, “their whole outlook is different,” the principal said. “They walk down a [school] hallway and they realize, ‘Hey, there’s my friends.’ ’’

Landy provided a list of the various student activities offered by the school, as follows: There are two after-school homework assistance programs known as Family Friendly and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program).

Family Friendly, which includes a fitness component, is funded by a state grant combined with a local match, and is designed for grades 6 to 8. It has been operating in Harrison for the past eight years and, with more than 100 kids and between 10 and 12 instructional staff participating, “it’s our biggest after-school program,” Landy said. The group meets Monday to Friday, from 3 to 5 p.m.

CHIP’s function is similar to Family Friendly but is geared specifically for special needs youngsters and meets Monday to Thursday, from 3 to 5 p.m. About 50 children are in this year’s group.

“We have an expanded Fine and Performing Arts program,” Landy said, “that includes one day of Chorus, two days of Step dancing, two days of regular dance, one day of actors workshop, one day of play writers workshop, one day of crew/public relations and one day of set design.”

Chorus, with some 30 youngsters involved, meets Wednesdays and performs holiday shows and at special events like the Winter and Spring Concerts.

Step dancing “is our version of hip hop and this year, it’s really taken off,” Landy said. The group, led by physical education/health teacher Uril Parrish, rehearses on Mondays and Thursdays and struts its stuff at different events during the school year. This Halloween eve, its members offered a special dance tribute to Michael Jackson.

Parrish also assists the regular dance team which practices their routines on Tuesdays and Fridays.

“Between the two dance groups, we have to close to 30 participating,” said Landy.

Kids in the various performance- related groups, with some overlapping, work together as a part of a drama production team, starting in the winter session, to prepare for the annual Spring Musical. They get help from music teacher Steven Fink and technology instructor Eileen Winkleblech.

There are also clubs focused on Art, School Newspaper, Yearbook, Environmental, Explorers (with fields trips to big metropolitan cities to learn more about history), Student Council, Fitness, Canstruction, Gifted & Talented and Chess, which has grown to 20 members who meet a couple of times a month to play each other.

The school’s sports program has also expanded. In the fall, it offers girls’ volleyball and soccer and boys’ soccer; in the winter, there is boys’ and girls’ basketball and swimming; and in the spring, boys’ volleyball, baseball and softball.

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