When Ashley Fusolo’s school day is over, the Hudson sixth-grader can either stay home or head to the Argeo R. Cellucci Jr. Clubhouse where she meets up with friends, does homework, and plays board games.
Fusulo said the decision is a no-brainer.
“I’d have nothing to do at home,’’ she said. “I’d sit on my iPad and watch You Tube. If I come here, I have so many options.’’
Too young to work, and too old for structured games on the playground, middle-school students can be a tough group to keep happy and safe when the last bell rings.
But there are options, and they don’t all cost an arm and a leg.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of MetroWest, for example, has drop-in hours at its three clubhouses in Hudson, Marlborough, and Framingham Monday through Friday. Students in 7th through 12th grades can stay until 9 at night. The cost is $25 for the entire school year and includes transportation from schools to the club.
Fran Hurley, president of the MetroWest organization, said activities are different at each club based on the interests of the students.
“It’s an in-between age for them in terms of the elementary side and having more freedom,’’ he said. “Part of our program is to allow for some independent choices within the program. Giving them a choice in the process helps to keep them engaged.’’
Organizers say the key to keeping this group of students off their phones and out of trouble is allowing them to have a say in what they do and for how long.
“This age group is really different because they are at an age where they want to be independent but still need supervision and guidance,’’ said Meegan O’Neil, chief strategy and marketing officer for the YMCA of the North Shore. “We work with them to have us define what the activities are going to look like. We have a wide variety of offerings because the interests vary.’’
The North Shore Y operates programs in Beverly, Gloucester, Salem, Marblehead, Haverhill, Ipswich, and Plaistow, N.H. Activities might include a basketball league, pizza making, skateboarding competitions, magic, and squirt gun painting. Membership rates range from $15 to $26 per month for youths and teens.
The Ys offer a variety of different programs to meet the needs of the different students — whether it’s a drop-in teen center, instructional classes, or team games, O’Neil said.
“What we find is there are a variety of program models that are going to work for this age group,’’ O’Neil said.
In Weymouth, the town’s Youth and Family Services department operates a Teen Center that is open during the week after school and during vacations. The center is open for students in sixth grade and older and is free of charge. The center has pool and ping pong, video games, an exercise room, tutoring, a TV, space to hang out and chat, and special events, said Kathy Collins, department and teen center director.
She said businesses sometimes provide tickets to events like the Boston Celtics and Boston Red Sox.
“There aren’t a lot of social places they can go,’’ Collins said. “This is a place they can get together, be safe, and have fun.’’
Collins said the kids all have different interests so it’s important to offer a variety of activities to keep them engaged.
Gaby Tavares, a seventh-grader who attends the Hudson Boys and Girls Club, said she likes being exposed to new activities.
“They get us to try different things that are out of our comfort zone – things that we wouldn’t want to play,’’ she said.
Tavares said if she didn’t go to the club after school, “I’d be sitting on my couch watching TV or talking to my dog.’’
Hurley said students can take part in academic programs, leadership clubs, and recreational activities.
“The key is you want to make sure they feel comfortable, safe and engaged with the group and that’s a continuous process,’’ he said.
Hurley said one of the biggest issues facing middle school students is cyber-bullying so screen time is limited.
“We look at our kids and the reason we want them here every day is they are engaged with peers and staff and chances are they’ll stay on track and make the right choices,’’ Hurley said. “Otherwise if they do take a step down that wrong path it’s difficult to bring them back.’’Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.