The YMCA’s Excel Beyond The Bell program has been an essential resource for over 110 students who’ve participated in it since its inception last August. It supports students taking part in distance learning, as well as parents who aren’t able to be home while their kids learn remotely.
BenitoLink spoke to YMCA of San Benito County Senior Program Director Crystal Canchola, who oversees the Excel Beyond the Bell locations at Sunnyslope Elementary School and Spring Grove Elementary School. The program is administered in partnership with the Hollister School District and North County Joint Union School District.
Sixty students actively attend the Sunnyslope location, with 45 going full-time from 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and 15 going part-time from 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Twelve students are enrolled in the program at Spring Grove.
In anticipation of HSD offering a hybrid option of in-person instruction, Canchola said, “We definitely see our program changing when HSD goes hybrid. However, most families are confident that they’ll need our support in one way or another, running after school programs or providing a program for out-of-school time.”
She continued, “Nothing has been finalized for HSD. I’m working with the principals to come up with a solution that works for everyone.”
With education and childcare workers now eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, Canchola said of about 20 staff, all except two have opted to get the vaccine.
Students are placed in classrooms by grade level. Inside the classrooms, desks are spaced six feet apart, and students must wear masks when getting up from their seats. Rates for enrolling in Excel Beyond the Bell vary between $125 and $175 per week. Canchola said over 70% of current enrollees benefit from some form of financial assistance.
“We’ve had more behavioral issues than ever before; it was especially hard in the beginning for students to stay on task and keep focus,” she said. “For example, some students would get frustrated and smash the computer shut and lay on the floor, and they were done.”
Explaining that it was mostly students in TK through second grades displaying these types of behaviors, Canchola said the YMCA has a system in place where staff pulls the student aside and has a conversation about what exactly is going on and how it can be resolved. Establishing an open line of communication between teacher, parent and staff has enabled the program to develop paths toward behavior improvement.
“Finding out from the parents what calms a student down really has helped,” Canchola said.
For students who are considered “active” by their parents, YMCA staff motivate them to continue working by taking breaks to get some fresh air and walking a lap outside. For students who are motivated by art or creativity, Canchola said, “It calms them down to draw in between their work.”
The Excel Beyond the Bell program has also implemented the option of journal writing as a form of mental wellness for older students in the upper grades.
In some cases of disruption—a first grader for example—the student would be moved to an area with older students in an effort to instill more focus.
YMCA and its Excel Beyond the Bell program work to promote a culture where students are responsible for their own actions. If the situation requires it, a behavior plan is developed, and in some rare instances Canchola said students have been asked to take a break from the YMCA.
“It all depends on the student. This program is not for everyone. Every child is different,” she said.
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