John Clayton's In the City: Bodies, minds move in after-school program
(You can also read the article on the Union Leader website: unionleader.com)
It’s Valentine’s Day. That means we’re supposed to talk about love. In this case, it’s a labor of love that unfolds regularly at Hillside Middle School.
Those who marvel at the academic and behavioral transformation that has taken place at Hillside this year would probably be just as thrilled at the transformation that takes place at the school after dark.
That’s when a program called “Bring It!” brings the place back to life.
For the record, Bring It! is an acronym for a program called “Bringing Refugees, Immigrants and Neighbors Gently Into Tomorrow,” which is why I frequently thank my stars for acronyms.
Anyway, the ambitious after-school program was once at the Beech Street School, but when assistant principal Brendan McCafferty was elevated to the top job at Hillside last fall, he brought “Bring It!” with him.
“We had been doing it at Beech Street for five years,” Brendan said. “Having the chance to bring it to the middle school gave us more options as far as space and facilities, but our mission is the same. The sports and educational programs are the carrot, but we wrap it with positive mentoring to get kids connected and bring all of the elements of the city together.”
Thus, an average of 100 kids attend the Tuesday and Wednesday evening sessions, which feature dance, in-door soccer and the fabulous Homework Club. The sessions are filled with so-called “service learners,” those being volunteers from the City Year program, plus students from St. Anselm, UNH-Manchester and Southern New Hampshire University.
The fact is, Bring It! inspires an amazing array of mentors. Student teacher candidates from the New Hampshire Institute of Art and volunteers from the Currier Museum of Art have introduced the kids to art programs, you have soccer coordinators Doug Leclerc, Hector Urrea and Abdi Khalid and then there is dance instructor Deo Mwano, the Congolese refugee whose family’s remarkable story was recently featured on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
Now there is music on the horizon.
“We’ve been able to arrange bus transportation to Hillside for the kids who live in the Beech Street School area and Elmwood Gardens,” said program coordinator Jodi Harper, “but we also wanted to offer opportunities to kids at West High and Parkside, so when John Faggiano offered to begin drumming classes, that allowed us to establish programming on the West Side.”
For the record, John Faggiano is chairman of the percussion department at the Concord Community Music School. More importantly, his rocking seven-piece band – The Knights – played at my daughter’s wedding and it was worth every last penny. In fact, it required my last penny, but I digress.
What’s important here is that Bring It! is helping to bring Manchester’s newest residents into harmony with their new home, and to Brendan’s mind, one other thing bears mentioning.
“This program doesn’t cost the local taxpayers so much as a dollar,” he said. “There is a collaboration between the school district and Southern New Hampshire Services, but everything else is covered through grants and donations. That’s why we’re always looking for new sources of funding.”
One new source is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which – through the New Hampshire Nursing Diversity Pipeline Project – has enabled Bring It! to bring 25 eighth, ninth and 10th graders into a pilot program designed to introduce them to career opportunities in the field of health care.
The provisions of that grant specify that it is limited to refugees, immigrants and people of color, but that is the only program under the Bring It! umbrella with any such restrictions.
“Everything else is open to any child from Manchester,” Jodi Harper explained, “and we’re happy to accommodate as many as we can.”