Sag Harbor, HUGS May Team Up for New After-School Program

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By Christine Sampson

Administrators at Pierson Middle-High School on Monday pitched a new after-school program modeled after one in the Westhampton Beach School District, in which Pierson would team up with the organization HUGS to offer a supervised, drop-in program to replace the discontinued YARD program.

HUGS, which stands for Human Understanding and Growth Services, Inc., is a nonprofit entity that emphasizes healthy choices to prevent high-risk behaviors such as drug or alcohol abuse among children, teens and families.

The Sag Harbor School District began formulating a plan to replace the YARD (Youth Advocacy Resource Development) program after its longtime leader, Debbie Skinner, retired in June. In August, Pierson assistant principal Brittany Carriero unveiled a proposal for supervised program that incorporated Homework Club, fitness and outdoor recreation, structured activities and unstructured free time. However, its lack of a specific price tag emerged as a sticking point.

The version proposed during Monday’s school board meeting was less resource-intensive. Ms. Carriero said it would be based in the cafeteria, with the overall goal of a “lounge like” atmosphere “without a person breathing down their throat.” Students would be allowed to play outside or come-and-go to approved clubs or sports as well. It would run from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday. The caveat: Once a student signs out of the program, he or she must leave school grounds immediately.

HUGS would staff the program with two employees. The total cost for the program in its first year would be $19,400, including $5,000 for supplies and equipment to start it up, for the 30 weeks remaining in the school year from its projected start date. The district spent $30,000 on the YARD program annually, with additional support coming from the Youth Resource Council.

At the start of Monday’s meeting, two seventh-graders, Ryan Fleming and David Giraldo, appealed to the school board to be able to post a petition in school to bring back YARD, a program they said was important to them.

“They want to make sure it will feel the same for them,” Fiona Fleming, Ryan’s mother, said.

HUGS executive director Kym Laube said the group “values our relationship with Sag Harbor and is excited about the potential to do more.”

“We have a track record of this exact kind of collaboration in Westhampton Beach,” she said. “What we found was we now had many students staying after school, really engaging in programs and activities. That was where we found the win. It really met the community’s need.”

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