Westport's 'Start 'Em Young' after school enrichment program is turning into a promising feeder program for middle and high school sports, one year after getting off the ground in the district's …
Westport's 'Start 'Em Young' after school enrichment program is turning into a promising feeder program for middle and high school sports, one year after getting off the ground in the district's elementary school grades.
Launched just as the most recent wave of Covid was dying down in Westport, the program was designed to get kids out of the house after more than a year of remote learning, introducing them to sports and other enriching pursuits that hadn't been available in the time of COVID. And a huge push behind the program was to help children re-socialize after their forced isolation.
A year later, the program has grown by leaps and bounds, and now almost 200 students are taking part — more than double the numbers from the initial startup. It's so busy, in fact, that school officials are even using the front lawn of the middle high school for some SEY activities. While it started at just the elementary school level, it's since grown to include middle school students as well.
"It's a huge opportunity, and these kids are getting introduced (to sports and other pursuits) at a younger age, and they're able to take that experience right into high school and middle school," said Mike Fernandes, who helped get the program off the ground last year and continues to assist. He said that while the program is teaching kids about sports, journalism, robotics and other pursuits, it's also imparting lessons on working as teammates, the value of hard work, and imparting social skills.
"There's a campus life now," he said. "It's showing kids how to work together, develop relationships outside of the classroom."
The program runs sessions in various sports and other pursuits, like robotics and journalism, throughout the year, based on the season. At the moment, kids are playing flag football, field hockey, robotics, lacrosse and pep band, with the journalism class, 'News Team,' getting rolling soon.
Fernandes said he is particularly excited at the prospects for lacrosse, which just started at the elementary school level. The district's plan is to make lacrosse a varsity high school sport, and with the interest shown so far "it's going to be a really robust program," Fernandes said. "It serves as a really good feeder system."
Lacrosse was a cooperative sport last year, but "if we can create this program at a younger age so the kids start learning the fundamentals, and can run with it in middle school, then you've got the pick of the litter" in high school, he said.
"Kids like to try new things. Once they get to the high school, they'll know if they're interested" in a more developed program offered there."