Reaching out to middle schoolers
Boys & Girls Clubs to open Cooper Armory program in September
As if what she has already disclosed isn’t enough of a revelation, Lara D’Antuono says she has an announcement – “surprise” – that she’s keeping until Thursday evening.
What the executive director of the Warwick Boys and Girls Clubs will say and what club friends have learned from invitations is that the club will open a third location. While the invitation doesn’t name the facility, it’s obvious from the picture it’s the Lloyd Cooper Armory on Sandy Lane. The vacant armory is now owned by the city.
Mayor Scott Avedisian plans to have the city department of Parks and Recreation operate from the armory as well as for it to house a number of other programs with the Boys and Girls Clubs as a major tenant.
What D’Antuono envisions for the armory is different from the clubhouses the organization operates in Oakland Beach and Norwood. This is not another clubhouse, but rather a facility offering programs for 6th, 7th and 8th graders exclusively, the same group of youths who will come together for the first time this September as the city’s two junior high schools make the transition to middle schools.
D’Antuono sees the new clubhouse as addressing that awkward time in a child’s life when they’re too old to relate with elementary school-aged kids and too young to fit in with older teens, whether it’s in school, on the athletic field or socially. It’s also a time when kids haven’t found “their passion” and are susceptible to influences that could put them on the wrong path, she says.
“This is one of the most pivotal points in life,” she said of the age group. What happens at this time, D’Antuono said, can set the tone for the rest of a student’s school career and beyond.
She is excited by the potential of the club. She has worked on the programs, which in many ways is an extension of what the students are learning in school, for more than a year with a board that includes city and school representatives.
“I think of the past 20 years [of Warwick Boys and Girls Club history] that this will be one of the most impactful things the club has done,” she said.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said he and D’Antuono started talking about programs at the armory more than a year ago.
“When we first considered acquiring the Cooper Armory, the notion of a full-fledged recreation center was discussed. Youth recreational programs were a priority, so I asked the leader in providing youth activities [Lara D'Antuono] to envision the ideal place for middle school kids to enjoy. Then we added the Warwick Police Athletic League and the desire to create a place and space for some of their programs.”
Avedisian said plans for the armory reached beyond youth activities. In an email, he said consideration is being given to including components for seniors such as cards and cribbage so that the club would be intergenerational.
Cheryl Rabbit, chief academic officer for Warwick schools and a member of the advisory board headed by Sean Collins, calls the program a “perfect extension” of what’s happening in the classroom. The armory is within walking distance of Vets that will have 1,200 students when it opens as a middle school in September. Rabbit said the school department may consider transportation services for Winman students, but initially the effort would be focused on getting it up and running with Vets.
Rabbit sees the program as serving a “niche” of students who don’t fit into the athletic scene and haven’t found themselves. The programs to be offered would follow the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) model through partnerships with the Warwick Arts Center and institutions of higher learning such as the Rhode Island School of Design. The club at the armory, which is going to require renovations and build-out, would include a multi-purpose room that could be used for athletics, performances and other group activities. A survey of more than 600 middle school student parents was conducted to assess the need for the club and programs it should offer.
Rabbit sees the club as offering an “extending learning” opportunity for kids where they would be exposed to positive role models and be supported.
“It’s not just like they’re little high schoolers,” she said of the age group. “They’re really transitioning as 8th graders into high schoolers.”
D’Antuono plans to have the club up and running Monday through Friday from 2 to 7 p.m. starting this September. It would be open to all sixth, seventh and eighth graders whether they are students at Vets or Winman, the two city middle schools, private or even home schooled. She said the club’s annual membership fee of $30 would apply and there would be a monthly charge of $20. Those students eligible for reduced or free meals would not pay the monthly fee.
D’Antuono said funding for the new clubhouse has come from several major partners.
That may be part of the “surprise” Thursday, but then she wouldn’t let the cat out of the bag. The announcement is set for 7 p.m. at the Norwood branch clubhouse.