BARRE — Nearly 30 children with energy to burn and a just-devoured snack in their stomachs stood outside the locked library at Barre City Elementary and Middle School on Wednesday afternoon waiting for someone to come with a key.
They wanted in — to a library — after school.
The emphasis here is on “after school,” because the library was one of three venues where students — a mix of third- and fourth-graders from Barre and Barre Town — were anxiously waiting on Wednesday and it wasn’t the books they were after.
“This is Legoland day!” declared A.J. Lange, an otherwise subdued third-grader from Barre who happens to take Legos very seriously.
So seriously, that Lange was well on his way to methodically constructing a farmyard — complete with a chicken coop — not long after the library doors opened and kits filled with the colorful plastic building blocks were delivered.
Lange worked alone, though he was the exception as the first free five-week session of a grant-funded after school program approached its scheduled end.
Friday is the last day Barre’s centralized school will host a program that has proven far more popular than organizers anticipated. Students are on vacation next week and not long after they return the program will make its planned pivot to Barre Town Middle and Elementary School.
The roster of daily activities will be adjusted, the outdoors will be exploited, and a second free five-week session will be launched on April 29.
Thanks to a five-year grant retired superintendent Lyman Amsden secured from the American Gift Fund last year the schools have up to $350,000 — $70,000-a-year — to spend on a program that is already off to a strong start and looking to expand.
This year it’s third- and fourth-graders only and a 10-week proposition. The funding obtained by Amsden is covering everything from the cost of staff and supplies to busing students between schools and then to designated drop-off locations after the day’s activities end at 5 p.m.
Co-coordinators Jen Bisson and Tamara Cooley already are thinking bigger.
Bisson, a third-grade teacher at Barre City Elementary School, and Cooley, who teaches fourth grade at Barre Town Middle and Elementary School, would like to offer programming for first- and second-graders as well next year and Bisson has already applied for a separate grant that would help morph the 10-week pilot program into one that offers after school opportunities to students throughout the school year.
“That’s the goal,” said Bisson. She grew up in Barre and was a product of a different program — Cityscape — that was launched in 1998 and finally folded when the last of the federal funding that paid for it ran out in 2015.
Cityscape provided creative enrichment activities for middle school students in Barre, while the one Bisson and Cooley are now running supplies younger students with after school opportunities to socialize, exercise, learn new skills or just plain learn in a way that doesn’t remotely resemble the classroom experience.
Take fourth-graders Mikail Razzaq and Kayne Hammond.
Razzaq, who lives in Barre Town, and Hammond, who goes to school in Barre, seemed wildly surprised — and just a little disappointed — that the egg they’d encased in a plastic container survived being propelled down a ramp and into a wall and then dropped on the floor by Jen Farnsworth.
“We didn’t expect that to work,” Hammond candidly confided after Farnsworth, a special educator from Barre Town, proclaimed their experiment a success.
The secret to their success depended on who you asked.
“Bubble wrap and sponges,” Razzaq said.
“No confidence and a lot of jokes,” Hammond countered. “We made it in like two minutes.”
That’s apparently how long it takes to forge a budding friendship between two boys from different schools who eventually managed to break the egg that was the key ingredient of their afternoon science project.
“We didn’t know each other before,” Hammond said.
Neither did Alek Abdella and Aiden Lemieux.
While Razzaq and Hammond were secretly hoping to break an egg upstairs, Abdella, a third-grader from Barre, was in the library fondling the camper he and Lemieux constructed with Legos last week. Lemieux, a fourth-grade student from Barre Town already had moved on to the next project and was in the process of assembling a Lego airplane.
Lemieux is one of the program’s everyday participants. It’s “Junk Drawer Robotics” on Mondays, “Genius Hour” on Tuesdays, “Legoland” on Wednesdays, “Outdoor Sports” on Thursdays, and “Cooking” on Fridays.
Cooley said cooking was far more popular than either she or Bisson anticipated with 55 students showing up on the first Friday to make tortillas with pizza sauce and pepperoni.
“There was sauce all over the place,” she said.
While Lemieux is a daily participant, others, like Hayden Rock, Amalia Comolli, and Lilli Anderson, all third-graders from Barre, come once a week.
“Always Wednesdays, always Legos,” said Rock, who is about to start soccer and won’t be making the trip to Barre Town when the next session starts.
Anderson and Comolli will.
Anderson said she’ll be learning how to draw graphic novels.
“I like comics,” she said.
Though Comolli has gymnastics on Wednesday, she’ll be participating in sports — a daily offering for both sessions — on Mondays, Tuesday’s and Thursdays, and has signed up to explore the trails around Barre Town school on Fridays.
“Sounds fun,” she said.
The looming shift to Barre Town will require brief bus ride for students like Comolli, Anderson and Lange.
For Lange, Monday will be the new “Lego day,” and he’ll spend his Wednesdays giving gymnastics a try.
Cooley said she and Bisson have tweaked the list of offerings — retaining popular activities and adding a few new ones to give students more choices. The graphic novel activity is a new addition, as is digital photography, and the opportunity to play the math game Prodigy on Chrome books.
Bisson, who said she would have been “super-excited” if 75 students had enrolled in the first five-week session — said the actual number is 125, with 70 to 80 students attending on any given day.
“It’s a great start,” she said. “We’ll see where we can take it from here.”