Kennett’s After The Bell should be a model for other schools

Last week, Kennett Middle’s After The Bell program served its 5,000 student. That’s amazing considering the program began in 1988 serving only 45 students.

After The Bell is such a unique program, there is nothing like it in the nation. It is staffed mostly by volunteers, and it takes hundreds of them to make the program work. There is no cost to the taxpayers. The school district partners with scores of organizations and businesses like the Kennett Area YMCA, Crossfit, Kennett Square Golf and Country Club, Longwood Performing Arts, the American Contract Bridge League, Chester County Department of Emergency Services, Kids First Swim School and the Land Conservancy of Southern Chester County., and many more.

The programs provide academically enriching and intellectually stimulating experiences. There’s homework help for those who need it, there’s the Jr. Engineers, Future Aviators, Science Explorers, Lego Robotics, and Electronics & Robotics.

And there’s more. Students can choose Arts & Crafts, Diva Girls Writers Workshop, Photography, Jewelry Design, Fun with Flowers, Knitting, Guitar, Glee/Chorale, Scrapbooking, Calligraphy, Paint for Fun at Kennett Design, Everyday Artist, Origami, Pottery, Ceramics, and Landscape Drawing.

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There are so many programs, students often have a hard time choosing which is best for them.

And the program is so popular, about half the students at Kennett Middle use it.

“This program is about the generosity of the community in funding this, and also for all of the volunteers who help,” said Rudy Karkosak, former superintendent of the Kennett Consolidated School District. “After-The-Bell does not cost taxpayers a dime, and we provide all of the transportation, admission fees for off-site activities, snacks and transportation home.”

After-The-Bell has especially helped Latino children learn the English language. Many volunteer mentors are bi-lingual. And the students involved in the program are on the fast track to success.

A recent survey found that nearly 94 percent found a new skill or hobby, 99 percent see the program as a place of respect, and 92 percent feel After The Bell makes them better students by learning life skills such as respect, manners, responsibility, discipline and strategies to deal with bullies.

And the students who participate in After the Bell are taught respect. Volunteers never have to worry about kids getting out of line. If they do, there is zero tolerance and that means they are out of the program -- a program that is beneficial to parents because many come from dual-income families and come home later in the afternoon.

Ed Zunino, former Kennett Square police chief, said this about After The Bell after we interviewed him several years ago: “I can say without a doubt that the After The Bell program has been very positive in our community instilling confidence and morale among our youth.”

It’s a testament to both the community and the school district that a program that costs in excess of $220,000 per year doesn’t have a tax impact.

Support After The Bell by volunteering. Or if you don’t have the time, support it by attending After The Bell’s annual fundraiser , which will take place Friday, April 7 at The Gables at Chadds Ford from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets are $100 per person. RSVP by March 24. For tickets, www.afterthebell.org.