A successful after-school program that provides unique academic, social and extracurricular activities needs help from the community as funding is expected to decline this summer.
Director Jennifer Doom said the FAST Academy is special because of the large number of atypical opportunities it provides students outside the classroom. She said in its three years more than 300 students have participated and interest continues to steadily grow. Two McCracken County schools currently have the program - Reidland Middle School, in its third year, and Heath Middle School, in its first year.
"We offer so many things that kids wouldn't be able to experience without the program," she said. "We extend and integrate classroom learning but make it fun and hands-on as well."
After-school clubs and academic resources include tutoring, photography, embroidery, art, foreign language, creative writing, Pinterest activities, I-pad university, book club, small business classes, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) experiments, Zumba classes and field trips.
Various classes are led by professional and amateur members of the community including Nathan Blake Lynn, a Heath High School graduate and professional musician and songwriter. The offerings also change each semester to keep the options fresh and exciting for students, she said.
"The program is here to help the kids if they are struggling in a particular subject and to introduce them to new things," Doom said. "We are also here for the working parents and for those busy teachers."
The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serves as the primary partner at Reidland Middle School. The extension service hopes to continue expanding the course options, including the addition of archery and culinary classes and a leadership academy focused on etiquette and personal development, according to David Littlejohn, McCracken County 4-H agent.
The academy is funded through a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant that provides three years of 100 percent funding then decreased monetary resources in years four and five. Resources at Reidland Middle School will decrease 25 percent this July and another 25 percent in July 2015. She said the crux of the graduated system is for the program to become sustainable beyond the grant through community partnerships and donations.
"We never say no to community partners and are grateful for anyone's gifts of their time, talents or money," she said. "Anyone can make a difference and introduce a student to an interest that opens up a whole new world for them."
The FAST Academy is open from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday during the school year. Registration has also begun for the academy's summer camp program.
For more information or to donate, contact Doom at 270-538-4190 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the program at Heath Elementary School, contact Director Lacey Metzger at 270-538-4060 or at email@example.com.
Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.