Staying after school

First-grader Austin Engel, 7, is surrounded by supplies as he builds a Rube Goldberg machine Oct. 27 at Wallace Elementary School. 

Structured curriculums, graduation requirements and state assessments often keep students and teachers from finding time during the day to go outside the box to explore areas of personal interest that can be just as important in the educational process.

Among local schools, those other areas include delving deeper into the artistic talents and crafts of a Native American tribe, studying the strategy behind the game of chess or learning more about the stars.

“During the school day, there is no time to devote to kids’ talents or kids’ interests,” said Longfellow Elementary Principal Irina Erickson. “So if they are interested in something like astronomy, we don’t have a course that would offer them opportunities to learn about stars and planets.”

That’s where after-school programs have taken on an even greater role for students who want to explore things that aren’t part of any curriculum or found on any test.

For years, staying after school usually meant a student misbehaved or needed to finish a late assignment.

Now that time between when the last bell rings and 5 p.m. has become a time when classrooms are occupied by students studying everything from the details of J.K. Rowling’s writings to creating clay pots.

Wallace Elementary Principal Allyson Bohlen said that her school has supported the idea of after-school programs for years, and continues to build on the tradition.

“Clubs have been a big thing at Wallace,” she said. “It started eons ago with chess club.”

Then, a few years ago, several teachers decided to add a literature program to get more kids excited about reading. That program, titled Books and Beyond, caters to students in kindergarten through sixth grade by allowing students to read on their own level.

Then came the math and science clubs followed by Bohlen’s own addition this year of the robotics club.

Each Tuesday afternoon, Bohlen and her students learn about everything from the simplest robots to NASA technology. Then they put those lessons to work through the creation of junk bots and Rube Goldberg machines.

Fourth-grade teacher Trisha Rundell started a reading club at Lincoln Elementary this year after working with a group of students in the area of reading for a special project during the 2014-15 school year.

This year, she is bringing in fourth- and fifth graders who want to have more time to read what they like while making some fun projects, as well. And the students oftentimes don’t want to leave when the club ends at 4:30 p.m.

“They want to be at school,” Rundell said. “They want to be here. They like to be here and their parents want them to do well.”

That extra 60 minutes of time at school with students every Thursday is worth it beyond measure to Rundell.

“I look forward to Thursday every week,” she said. “I think, ‘Oh it’s Thursday.’ ‘Oh, a couple more hours until reading club.’ ”

That’s the same feeling for Jillian Quandt, a seventh-grade teacher who sponsors Ping-Pong club each week at Hastings Middle School.

While there are some talented players in the club, Quandt said she knows that the program is about a lot more than playing Ping-Pong.

“It’s not so much about Ping-Pong skills,” she said. “It’s more about making friends.”

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