For years, South Allegheny Middle School students spent the last 20-odd minutes of the school day waiting for buses in what was called "afternoon homeroom.''
"It was wasted time ...something was needed to make it more productive,'' said principal Lisa Duval.
The solution became character education now held during that time. The nongraded classes address issues such as bullying, self-esteem and good decision-making.
"What's really nice is that since teachers have the freedom to pick what they want to teach, it is something they are really interested in.'' Mrs. Duval said.
The new classes are part of the teachers' daily routine and have been added at no cost to the district.
There are 16 areas from which students can choose, and include gardening, chess, art, puzzles and games, fantasy football, health and fitness, dancing and cooking.
Math teacher Shannon Campbell, who helped organize the program, grew up with Italian cooking in her family and chose to lead a class on cooking. Her class has 14 participants..
"I present healthy, easy recipes for 13- and 14-year-olds,'' she said. "For our pasta salad we cooked noodles one day, cut veggies the next and on the third mixed the noodles and veggies with cheese and Italian dressing.
"They couldn't believe how easy it was and how good it tasted," Mrs. Campbell said.
Haven Bittner, 13, of Glassport, likes to dance and said she feels "so good" when she dances well in the dance group. She likes the new class so much, she is now considering formal lessons.
Former hair stylist Jenn Cleary, who teaches careers and business classes, instructs the 20-girl Glam' class about hair, makeup and clothing.
"We talk about how having clothes isn't who you are, but rather it is what you are inside that means something,'' she said. "Hair and makeup are fun, but not who you are.
Dyanne Raine, 13, of Lincoln, said she tends to be shy and began the school year insecure because she had acne.
"But after a few Glam classes, I slowed down on makeup and became more open and outgoing,'' she said. "Ms. Cleary helped me talk to others.''
"Ms. Clearly tells us that everyone is special in their own way and you don't have to try as hard or cake on makeup to look pretty,'' Dyanne said. "Sometimes the most natural makes you look the prettiest.''
In December, students will select a new interest group for the second half of the school year.
"It worked out better than we could have imagined,'' Mrs. Duval said. "This ends their day on an up note.''
Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published October 10, 2013 1:16 AM