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Middle schoolers in Richmond may soon have a lot more fun in the afternoons. 

Middle Schoolers Catch Attention

Middle schoolers in Richmond may soon have a lot more fun in the afternoons.

Recently the Community Foundation gave two grants of $125,000 each to Sacred Heart Center, a community center in South Side, and Team Up Richmond, a program created in 1995 in response to cuts by Richmond City Schools that eliminated middle-school sports programs. The money will set up after-school and summer programs specifically geared toward sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

So why only middle schoolers?

Kids ages 11 to 14 are more likely to be overlooked by parents and teachers than any other group, says Naomi Chambers-Taylor, executive director of Sacred Heart Center. They're too old to be treated as children and not old enough to assume adult responsibilities.

So when the Sacred Heart Center starting seeing a rapid decline in the number of middle schoolers attending its after-school program, Chambers-Taylor was concerned. The center provides activities and programs — at fees based on parents' income — mostly for children and adults in its own neighborhood.

Chambers-Taylor says many middle-school-age kids stay home in the afternoon alone or baby-sit younger siblings. She is among some educators now offering stern words against that.

"We're telling them they're old enough to be responsible," she says, and this sends the wrong message.

Instead, she says, they should be in some kind of after-school program — playing a sport, learning a hobby, being tutored — anything that sparks their interest.

With its $125,000 from the Community Foundation, the Sacred Heart Center is developing "Bridges of Hope," a program for middle schoolers that will combine cultural, recreational and educational activities.

Chambers-Taylor says she can't wait to get it off the ground. The search is on to find a recruiter to scour the city for middle schoolers. She'd like to have 50 to start with. "Those are the minds we want to keep engaged," Chambers-Taylor says. "They're the ones we want to keep out of trouble."

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