Jill Sieder, executive director and founder of the East Atlanta Kids Club, said when it first opened in 1998 the center was about sheer recreation—a fun and games environment—but that has changed over the years.
The club, located in the Brownwood Recreation Center in East Atlanta, started as a nonprofit place for local children to go after school or on the weekends. Sieder said children from the East Atlanta community would walk and ride bikes to the center to play and receive homework help.
“We were kind of in that enrichment category—some homework help when they needed it but it wasn’t really a goal high on our list,” Sieder said.
Several years ago, Sieder decided to add more academics into the club’s programming and began developing a curriculum centered on reading, language arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.
“We’ve got these kids here anywhere from three to 12 hours a week and a lot of them are underperforming in really critical areas and we need to change that, so we started doing academic enrichment. We do it at least a couple of days a week when the kids are here and we put a lot of resources into that,” Sieder said.
Currently, the club is hosting its Sci-Tech, Fun and Fitness Camp, a six-week program that runs Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sieder said it gives the children a chance to apply what they’ve been learning in school in fun and unique ways. Throughout the six weeks children will learn about computer science, aeronautics, rocketry and robotics, as well as playing sports and eating healthy.
“It’s free for most of the kids—there are a few who are paying—but I think the vast majority we’re providing this for free, which is how our after school program works, that meets four days a week—three afternoons and Saturday,” Sieder said.
Sieder said for the computer and rocketry segments of the camp the club hired Mind Catalyst, an academic service provider that sends instructors to teach the children. The final two weeks of the camp volunteers from Georgia Tech will be working with the children.
“They’re going to be coming in and doing it largely pro-bono but we’ll be spending a lot of money on robotics kits,” Sieder said.
Much of the resources for the club and the camp, come from donations from local companies and grants. The club has a computer lab, as well as 20 laptops for the children to use, which were donated by U.S. Micro Corp.
Sieder said many of the camp instructors and staff for the after-school program are volunteers from the community, local colleges and local nonprofit organization Hands on Atlanta. Each volunteer is required to undergo an orientation process and a background check.
“We’ll get you tutoring for an hour or two but we also want to get you out there playing kickball because that’s where bonding with the kids happens—it really enhances what goes on in the classroom. If they think you’re a cool guy out there playing kickball then they’re more likely to perform better in the classroom and ask for your help,” Sieder said.
In addition to the academic activities, students attending the camp and after-school program also learn about living and eating healthy. The club is partnering with the East Lake YMCA, which sends soccer and basketball coaches to work with the children several times a week. Sieder said the YMCA also busses campers to swim in the pool at its facility once a week.
“We’re also working with the folks that run the Brownwood Community garden,” Sieder said.
Behind the club is a small community garden. Sieder said many of the children who come to the camp and after-school program planted most of the vegetables, which are now ready to harvest.
“There’s corn, beans, tomatoes…now that it’s growing the kids can come out here and harvest it and go back in there and cook it, so it really brings it home,” Sieder said.