BRATTLEBORO — Last year, 51 percent of Brattleboro Area Middle School students participated in an after school program they call BEAMS.
It stands for Brattleboro Enrichment Activities for Middle Schools and it runs all year round.
"Statistically, our students who participate in BEAMS in general have higher test scores," said Meghan Hopkins, director of BEAMS at Brattleboro Area Middle School, noting that 92 percent of the program's regular attendees' standardized math scores went up or stayed the same while 95 percent saw their reading scores going the same way. "Overall, students feel they do better because they come to BEAMS."
BEAMS just received a $4,000 grant from TransCanada, which will allow for two six-week sessions of game design, a session of robotics and two sessions of wood shop. The after school program offers environmental clubs and camps. Then there are activities focused on science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM labs. The programming depends upon grants to run.
A 21st Century Community Center grant from the Vermont Agency of Education got BEAMS off the ground in 2008. The program is in its third year of operating under the agency's five-year grant. That funding provides approximately half of what's needed, Hopkins said. The district pays for some of it, too.
"The other quarter we have to write grants and fundraise," said Hopkins. "We rely heavily on local businesses."
Daisy Frederick was hired to teach technology and design at the school after being involved in BEAMS since its start. She served as site coordinator then introduced STEM labs into the programming.
"I think the BEAMS program really offers students the opportunity to be able to try new things, so fencing or working in the wood shop or programming a robot. Something they might not experience in the school day. I think it also serves as a safe space where kids can come and we give them a snack. They can hang out with their friends and then also engage with some adults on a one-to-one basis as well. That really gives them some encouragement," said Frederick. "I think for a lot of them it's good for confidence building and self esteem because they can find a project or an activity that they are really good at."
Since BEAMS serves many low-income families, Frederick said there is no charge for students.
"We rely absolutely on those grants," she added.
Frederick said she has seen participation in her programs nearly double over the last three years. Consequently, students have had to go on waiting lists due to the demand.
"There's so much passion. I think that's why it's been so successful," she said.
Students in the wood shop on Monday, Nov. 2, had different projects going on. BAMS science teacher Matt Betz was overseeing the session, assisting kids with the measuring and cutting of wood.
Benjamin Hunt, 13, who was creating a tunnel for his brother to drive toy cars through, said he signed up for woodworking because it sounded interesting. But, he also had some projects in mind.
"I just wanted to build different things," said Hunt, who hopes to try out BEAMS' robotics programming.
Abe Moore-Odell, 12, was busy sanding a cutting board.
"I took a long piece of normal board and cut it into thin strips then cut it in pieces. Then I put all the blocks together," said Odell, who is also taking part in BEAMS' game design program. "I made a video game where you're trying to escape from the sewer and get up to the clouds. It's almost done."