After-School Program Launched For Pierson Students

Hugs director Kym Laube giving a presentation to the Sag Harbor Board of Education on Monday night.

Pierson Middle-High School’s new after-school program was launched Monday. While the first day brought just one student in for what Kym Laube said was “an incredible chess game,” she said she was confident the program would grow as furniture and games are delivered, and classes with community members are scheduled.

The after-school program was approved by the school board in October and replaces the Youth Advocacy and Resource Development, or YARD, program, which ended after 18 years in 2017 with the retirement of its director, Debbie Skinner. The district contracted with the nonprofit HUGS, Inc., of which Ms. Laube is the executive director, to run the new program, which is based out of the school cafeteria and has the aim of creating a lounge-like atmosphere for students to gather from 3 to 5:30 p.m. It will cost the district $19,400 to run annually. HUGS, Inc. runs a similar program for the Westhampton Beach School District.

“We find it works really well to have an after-school program that is youth-lead, youth-driven and youth-inspired, but all about programs,” Ms. Laube told the Sag Harbor School Board Monday. She said there was space for a pool table and added she hoped to be able to bring in ping-pong tables and other attractions.

Ms. Laube said holding the program in the cafeteria would allow for diverse activities and give students access to the playing field behind the school building, while others can enjoy video games, homework help and arts and crafts. The program will also reach out to community leaders for mentoring and to teach classes like yoga, for example.

While the program is targeted for middle school students, Ms. Laube said high school students could participate as well and can rake up community service hours if they serve as program leaders.

One caveat for students is that once they sign out of the program, they need to leave campus. Pierson assistant principal Brittany Carriero told board members on Monday that a pass system would be developed so students could move between the program and other club activities or sports. “There are going to be kinks. We know we will have to work through it, but we will be on top of it,” she said.

One point Ms. Laube stressed is that while HUGS, Inc. does run programming related to drug and alcohol prevention, this after-school program is not about that, but is instead focused on positive youth development.

“This is a safe place for youth to be after school, supervised, engaged in positive activities and learning different leadership styles, and learning how to conflict resolve, and learning how to be a leader and find their voice and find different ways they can be a part of the community that gives them a sense of belonging,” she said.

New Policy

The school board will soon review a new policy for students eating on school buses. The current district policy does not allow food on buses, a measure designed to protect children with food allergies. On Monday night, Superintendent Katy Graves said the new policy has been drafted and will be brought to the board for consideration on March 26. On Wednesday, Ms. Graves said the new policy would allow food on two of the district’s 18 buses. Parents and coaches will be encouraged to avoid bringing foods that most commonly trigger allergies, like nuts. Epipens would be available to coaches in case of an emergency. Coaches will also be trained to recognize signs of choking and anaphylactic shock and will be trained in the Heimlich maneuver. Buses will be wiped down after any long distance run to reduce the potential for food residue to affect a medically fragile child, she said.

Board member Chris Tice on Monday suggested bus drivers also receive additional training. “Kids do eat on the bus, and if a child chokes, I would hope they got the training needed to be able to address the situation,” she said.

Board members once again disagreed on how communications should be handled moving forward. In February, district clerk Victoria Handy was appointed the new communications coordinator. The change increased her weekly hours from 29 to 40 and makes her a full-time employee. On Monday, Ms. Graves asked for board approval to hire communication representatives, who would be teachers or other staff members at each of the district’s schools, to gather content for Ms. Handy.

According to Ms. Graves, each coordinator will be paid $333 per month, or $4,000 a year, to take on the additional work outside of regular school hours.

Board member Susan Lamontagne said this was a task traditionally handled by teachers and parents without a stipend and questioned why it was necessary now. “It seems to be this is a piece of the job anyway,” she added. “Everyone should be a communicator in the district, so that is my issue there.” Ms. Tice added that she would like to see a job description.

Board member Susan Schaefer said she believed the position could be molded by the board as it develops. The measure was passed 5-2, with Ms. Lamontagne and Ms. Tice voting against it.