Fun And Learning After School

A student shows off the artwork she created at the SJJCC's afterschool program.
A student shows off the artwork she created at the SJJCC’s afterschool program.

There are dozens of reasons why you might want to enroll your child in an after-school program—your work hours may not coincide with school hours, your child needs a little extra help in a certain subject, you want to expand your child’s horizons to new subjects not taught in school or allow them to explore one more in depth. For these reasons and more, your child will benefit from participating in an after-school program. Luckily, Long Island has many to offer.

(Photo courtesy of Camp Italia)

Camp Italia was born with the goal of creating an organization that provides Italian language learning and cultural programs for children. Maria Puccio Arianas, president, and Donna Passarelli Fontanetta, vice president, cofounded the organization in 2011. Both spoke Italian fluently, had immigrant parents and were looking for a program that would provide a full Italian experience to their kids.

“Donna and I really wanted to put together a program for young children to connect to Italian language and culture in a fun way,” said Arianas. The program uses a combination of learning words and phrases through games, skits and other fun activities.

(Photo courtesy of Camp Italia)

“For example, we talk about all of the traditional Italian holidays [such as] carnevale. We teach the history, how it began in Venice, and how it evolved,” Arianas said. “They make carnevale masks, and we teach words related to that. It’s interactive. We do a parade and we teach them the song that’s sung during the carnevale.”

For the younger children, they read a traditional book in Italian, which they are already familiar with in English—Little Red Riding Hood, for example. By the end of the program, the children are acting out the story on stage in Italian.

(Photo courtesy of Camp Italia)

Students of Camp Italia learn culture alongside the language. “Part of becoming a global citizen is exposing yourself to other languages and cultures and the way other people…perceive things,” said Arianas. “We show them how different parts of the world function and how they can relate to it.”

Students are divided into two groups, ages 4 to 7 and 8 to 12. The classes take place on Saturday mornings or one day a week after school. By the end of an 8-week session, they are making sentences and having conversations among themselves.

Parents love it because it helps connect family members and children to their heritage. “There was this one little boy; every day he would go home and call his grandfather and tell him in Italian ‘this is what I learned today,’” Arianas said.

(Photo courtesy of Camp Italia)

Because Italian is a Latin-based language, it doesn’t compete with the learning of English; rather, it enhances it. Statistics show knowledge of Latin-based languages can increase SAT scores. But Italian is not the only language your kids can learn after school. Exposure to any new language and culture will benefit children in the short-term and long run. There is German-American School in the Ridgewood section of Queens (, Spanish Immersion Workshop in Manhasset, Garden City and Dix Hills ( and Berlitz Kids in Garden City ( which offers French, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin and Japanese.

(Photo courtesy of SJJCC)

The Sid Jacobson JCC Youth Department offers after school activities for children at their East Hills Campus, as well as at elementary schools in the Herricks and Port Washington school districts, every day that school is in session.

Lindsay Mauer, director of youth services, said, “The program allows the students to spend time with their friends [and siblings] in a recreational environment after school.”

They offer homework help, recreational play, including sports, games, coloring and arts and crafts, provide a snack daily and also have enrichment programs that kids can sign up for, including cooking and chess.

(Photo courtesy of SJJCC)

“It is quite beneficial for working families. We offer child care until 6 p.m. daily, a social experience and homework help so they don’t have to do it when they get home,” said Mauer, noting how helpful that is to working parents.

On-site, the JCC offers a variety of specific enrichment opportunities, including athletics and fitness, mind building, technology, as well as in the arts. They give classes in conjunction with the Science Museum of Long Island.

(Photo courtesy of SJJCC)

“Technology classes are computer-based,” Mauer said. “They could be Minecraft classes, or video game animation.” Even kindergarten-age children can enter a technology class and learn new skills while having fun.

There are after-school programs available to students all across Long Island, both through the school district and outside it. Check with your local community center for offerings, or ask your neighbors for recommendations. You are sure to find a program that challenges and excites your child.

Kimberly Dijkstra
Kimberly Dijkstra is the web editor for Anton Media Group, a writer for Long Island Weekly and recipient of several Press Club of Long Island (PCLI) and New York Press Association (NYPA) awards.

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