YMCA After School Programs
August 1, 2019 | by brooke wagner
Many a youngster looks forward to long, lazy days of summer, with no schedule to keep except for the rising and setting of the sun and mom’s reminder to “be home before dark!”. As thoughts turn back to school, however, parents are often in need of a safe place for students to hang out after the school day’s final bell rings. The YMCA offers an engaging and innovative solution for students in Kindergarten through 6th grade. The Afterschool program allows kids to participate in weekly activities such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), leadership development activities, physical activity, and homework help. Shannon George, the Youth Development Director, has led the Afterschool program for the past 14 years. She says, “The program provides a safe and fun environment for kids when they are out of school and serves our community by providing services that those kids may not get to participate in otherwise.”
The YMCA proudly reflects its core values of "caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility" through the Afterschool program. Students from schools across the Billings area come together to encourage each other in a healthy lifestyle. Nutritious snacks are provided, homework assistance and encouragement are given, and students are challenged to complete 45 minutes of physical activity through rock climbing and weekly swimming lessons. The program provides transportation from school to the Y or an offsite campus for students from all of School District 2, so kids get a chance to meet and make new friends that they may never have crossed paths with otherwise. Even the outlying schools such as Canyon Creek, Elder Grove, and Elysian get in on the action through programs offered at offsite locations. George says this is one of her favorite parts about the program. "Kids really enjoy building those connections and friendships across our community." She has her sights set on expanding the program to the Lockwood community, currently the only area that students are not bussed from after school.
The nearly 400 students the program serves are separated by age to ensure each child grows and learns with kids in the same season of life. Parents of older kids who may have balked at the thought of having a "babysitter" or being grouped with younger kids at daycare have found that their students love time at the Y. Hanging out with other students their own age raises the fun factor for the upper-grade students. For the littles, parents can rest easy knowing that educational support and academic help comes alongside the play and fun the Afterschool program provides. Since YMCA employees staff it, the focus on healthy minds and bodies is a constant theme in each day’s activities.
With quality afterschool programs like the one provided by the YMCA, the days of “latch key kids” where students walked home to an empty house may soon be ancient history. By encouraging young minds and bodies to excel even after the school bell rings, the Afterschool program is helping Billings’ families raise the next generation of leaders. With safety and fun at the forefront of their mission, the Y proves that there is help for families trying to juggle the work/family balance. The program is also there for families on snow days, early out days, and even some holidays, giving kids in our community a place to go no matter what the season or weather!
Brooke Wagner is a southern girl at heart, but a Montanan by choice she lives just outside of Billings with her husband and three children, ages 13, 11, and 6. She is a board-certified music therapist who enjoys cooking, spending time with her family, and hiding under the covers with a good book.