Community Spotlight: City of Sunny Isles Beach Afterschool Programs

By Emilie Winston-Cartwright….
One of the city of Sunny Isles Beach’s best kept secrets is the After School programs located in the Pelican Community Center. The two programs, Afternoon Fun Zone, and Storytelling Hour, run concurrently on all school days.

After School Program Supervisor, Roy Ortiz, appreciates the joys of running the program. “Sunny Isles Beach is a very culturally diverse city. Each day parents trust us to love, nurture and protect their children. We seek to celebrate the spirit, culture, faith, gifts and talents of each child in our program daily.”

The staff of the After School program reflects the diversity found in “Florida’s Rivera” and is comprised of women and men of different cultures and backgrounds.

Because the program serves children in Kindergarten through 8th grade, activities for the age groups vary to support the developmental needs of the children at each age the program serves. All children are provided with a snack and homework support daily. Other activities are based on the cognitive, social, and emotional needs of the children at their respective ages.

Kindergarten students, many of whom are attending school away from home for the first time, often need a little extra nurturing. The kindergarten counselors Angelica Capeles, Naomie Pierre-Toussaint, Jakari Williams and Tara Bazile seek to give that nurturing, and are available for extra hugs for these little ones, when needed. The counselors allow the children to read about, and watch PowerPoint presentations of various animals (this month’s theme, the polar bear), and learn facts about the habitat, diet, and life cycle of each animal studied. The counselors also provide support in handwriting, reading and basic mathematics.

First graders are growing their strengths academically and are full of energy. Equally energetic first grade counselors, Stephanie DiRocco, Karin Evertz, Claudia Londono, and Karen Rodriguez are always busy implementing fun activities to keep the first grade students engaged. After homework time, students work with puzzles, blocks, Legos and other manipulatives. The children also participate in art activities, in book discussions and may get individual reading help. The counselors provide the children with some quiet time, or alone work spaces at times, as these young ones sometimes still need time away from the busyness of the day.

Second grade children developmentally are becoming more confident, enjoy making others laugh, and at times, can be a bit—-well, dramatic. Why not use those talents for good? After school counselors Stephanie Riboul, Norelli Liguori, Brittany Crawford and Emilie Cartwright develop activities that allow second grade children to express their creative sides and give all that drama a socially appropriate outlet. The children rehearse and present plays to the other classes in the Afternoon Fun Zone, they also have creative writing journals to write stories and sketch. There is a strong emphasis on art; second graders have learned to create interesting food art as well; (turkeys, cupcake reindeer, Fig Newton dreidels, etc.) Additionally, they have crafts associated with holidays celebrated in many cultures, including Hanukkah, Christmas and Asian New Year.

Third grade counselors Lucette Labbe and Melissa Gonzales in addition to board games, arts and crafts and other fun activities are offering their students support academically. Using sample FCAT exams, they are providing 3rd graders the opportunity to practice answering questions in reading and mathematics. The goal is to give students challenges now, while teaching them tools for success, so they will be more confident with the real test in spring.

Students in fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade are expressing their need for independence, particularly socially, and occasionally, are testing boundaries. After a 45-minute homework session where students are offered individual support with their homework, and academic coaching (or coaxing as necessary), after school counselors Antonio Figueroa, Lorraine Tunon, Brooke Evans and Pharin Walker create opportunities for this age group to have a voice in how they spend the afternoon. The counselors encourage social independence. In addition to creative arts and craft projects, the students play board games, interactive cooperative games and participate in team building activities. The counselors with this age group also serve as mentors, and guide impromptu discussion surrounding the areas of concern unique to this age group, academic challenges, appropriate social behavior with peers, music, current events, bullying, etc. The mentorcounselors honor the need for independence in this age group, allowing the students to help choose the games, discussion topics, themes for their parties, to plan, and decorate, but also encourage them to take responsibility for cleaning and restoring the environment afterwards.

In January, the annual Afterschool Carnival was held. This year’s theme was Dr. Seuss. The field was decorated with creations by the very talented “Mr. Joel” (Joel Grunzweig), Sunny Isles Beach’s little known but widely loved artist (the fish and cat from The Cat in the Hat, Horton, the Two- humped Wump, The Grinch, Thing 1 and Thing 2). The approximately 220 students in attendance were able to enjoy inflatable jumping activities, munch on popcorn and snow cones, and take photos with their favorite Seuss characters. Students were also able to visit several Seuss-themed stations, including one that tested their knowledge of phrases from popular Dr. Seuss books (for example — “A person’s a person no matter how small”…..Do you know in which Dr. Seuss classic you can find that phrase? J).

The Storytelling program was created to offer childcare to parents who only need it between 1:30 and 3:15pm. Children in Storytelling are able to interact with books in exciting ways discussing characters, themes, plots of their favorite books. Ingrid Charles, Melvin Packeel and the Storytelling team, place an emphasis on non-fiction books as well, (animal stories, biographies, etc.) so children experience literature of various genres.

In addition to the Afternoon Fun Zone, and the Storytelling Hour, on days when school is out for a Teacher Planning Day, the city sponsors an All Day Fun Zone. Children can come and interact with their peers cooperatively, playing board games, Wii, pool, foosball, and spend time in the gym. Lunch and snacks are included in the fee. For more information about the City of Sunny Isles Beach Afternoon Fun Zone, Storytelling Hour, or the All Day Fun Zoneplease contact Roy Ortiz at 305.792.1706.

Emilie Winston-Cartwright lives in Sunny Isles Beach, and when she is not walking the beach with her husband, laughing with her 2 children, or knitting, apparently, she writes!


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