We wanted to share this wonderful article from this month’s VERVE Magazine. The YWCA is very proud of CiCi Weston and of our School Age Programs. We are currently taking sign ups After School, and we are also recruiting volunteer tutors for the program. If you want to register your child for after school, you can stop by the YWCA, call 254-7206 x 111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in volunteering, contact Kathy Dawkins, 254-7206 x 205 or kathy. email@example.com.
YWCA’s After School Students Reap the Benefits of Experiential Learning
article by Sherri L. McLendon
photo by Matt Rose
CiCi Weston smiles a lot, and it’s the small moments that sustain her. The School-Age Programs Director at the YWCA of Asheville and Western North Carolina, she became inspired a few summers ago after staffers and kids cultivated and picked ears of corn. “We popped the corn in the kitchen,” she says. “The children were fascinated with the fact that we grew our own popcorn.”
Despite that light moment, her mission is growing ever more complex. This upbeat leader believes it’s possible to transform the lives of kids through direct experience.
Before the popcorn breakthrough, the students had little knowledge about the way the food they prepared was grown and harvested. So Weston rolled up her sleeves and created a hands-on curriculum — including a garden — with a goal to address childhood obesity. She and the other instructors began to introduce a range of healthy foods.
Her team incorporated math, science, writing, basic economics, and business skills into the curriculum. “We’re exposing the children to things they need to know,” says Weston. “They’re not eating potato chips; they’re eating fresh vegetables and foods made on site.”
The students’ sense of achievement and community continues to make Weston smile. She began to approach experts willing to offer children’s programming and bring to life the joys of cooking, gardening, art, drama, poetry, music, swimming, and other interests, such as Girls on the Run, an extracurricular track program.
Through her efforts, parents of this fall’s crop of elementary-school-aged kids will find the Asheville YWCA After-School Program — already a five-star-rated venue where swimming lessons are included in the standard tuition — enhanced through a series of new enrichment activities. In Western North Carolina, economic stresses on families means employed parents may be stretched thin. The After-School Program offers an unusually affordable solution, including limited scholarships.
Unfortunately, cuts in state funding have eradicated comparable programming for middle-school students and teens, even as demand grows. Weston says she would “love to see people step up and see that happen for middle schoolers and teens.”
She rejects the argument that middle-school students are old enough to stay home by themselves. “We know differently. They’re not going to stay home if their friends are out.”
The reality of the situation can be read in her face. The light leaves her eyes, and her tone takes on a searching quality. She’s still smiling — but searching for answers the whole time.