Gulf Shores elementary and middle schools get $150K per year to help fund after school programs
By John Mullen
Gulf Shores Middle School has applied for a three-year grant to continue Beyond the Bell free programming for afterschool and summer activities for students.
“It’s called the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant and it runs on a three-year cycle,” middle school Assistant Principal Brittney Reeves said. “As long as you meet all of your goals that you establish with the grant, they renew it for three years before you have to reapply. The middle school is in their third year so we have reapplied for that one again this summer.”
Both the middle and elementary schools participate in the grant program and each get $150,000 to help pay for the programs.
“Our elementary school currently serves 210 students and our middle school serves 100 students throughout the year,” Reeves said. “We typically have around 60 to 70 students a day in the middle school program. That programming afterschool allows to provide academic support and enrichment, a variety of STEAM activities, physical fitness opportunities, a nutritious snack, health and wellness, financial literacy, environmental literacy.”
Students participate in a wide variety of programs afterschool daily until 5:30 p.m. and during the summer months.
“Our elementary students get homework support, physical activity and a STEAM opportunity every day along with a snack,” Reeves said. “For the STEAM activity we are doing robotics and we’ve got preschoolers playing with robots learning the code all the way up to fifth graders who are coding robots. We have STEAM challenges where they are given some type of parameters and certain supplies and they get to use their creativity and innovation to develop something. We have art classes, we use the nature around us for science lessons.”
For middle school students, the activities are a little more sophisticated.
“One of our big programs that is definitely a big hit with the students is called Jedi Academy,” Reeves said. “It is learning to fence in full pads using light sabers. Then they take those skills using light sabers when they create a movie. They’ll make a short film, they write it, direct it. They have to learning the lighting so that you can have the light right for your lightsaber and they edit it on their iPads to produce it.”
One of the most fun activities for middle schoolers includes making their own electric cars and racing them against other schools.
“We also have green power and we now have five cars,” Reeves said. “The green car program is where the students build battery operated single speed race cars. We actually travel around Alabama and Georgia mainly to compete against other schools across the nation.”
Students also compete virtually against other schools in online video games.
“They also do e-sports and they are currently competing in five different games,” Reeves said. “They do League of Legends, Apex, Fortnite, Super Smash Bros and Rocket League. They compete against other schools around the nation in e-sports.”
Other activities include 3D printing, coding robots, building drones, culinary classes and even yoga. In the summer, they branch out into the woods for exploring and outdoor learning time.
“We also partner with the Center for Sustainability and Ecotourism and they come in and teach environmental science, environmental engineering type lessons to our students,” Reeves said. “For our middle school they go hiking, kayaking and biking. They take field trips to the mariculture center, down to the beach.
“Our elementary school students went down to the beach as well, learning about erosion, plant life on the beach, dune restoration, marine life. We do a lot of the outdoor stuff in a partnership with them taking local field trips to the Gulf State Park Pier, throughout the state park over to Lake Shelby, the zoo. We get them out and about and involved with our community.”
Both afterschool programs also run recycling programs and track how much is collected.
“They manage the recycling for the entire school, both elementary and middle,” Reeves said. “They weigh that recycling weekly, track it, learn what they are saving and how much weight are we keeping out of our landfills.”