After school director brings 'Olympic energy'

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Cranston Public School’s new program director for the district’s after school, summer and vacation camp programs is not the Rhode Island Olympic medallist of the same name, but lately she’s been mistaken for her quite often as she has been settling into her new title and role within the city – and she plans to take on that new role with the same Olympic energy as an athlete to their sport.

Sarah DeCosta is the new program director for Cranston’s after school, summer and vacation camp programs, including the Bain and Kidventure programs at Hugh B. Bain Middle School and Gladstone Elementary School, as well as the Camp XL summer camp program – each one of them a program that combines hands-on learning with student empowerment and leadership.

Although new to the director’s role, DeCosta is no stranger to the programs she’s taken on, as she has been an integral part of them for quite some time, working as a community partner from the Elizabeth Buffum Chase Center, where she worked for the past eight years.

“I was working on a prevention grant to work with youth in schools to help prevent violence and other negative related life outcomes and therefore, I was involved in after school programming that whole time,” she said. “I met with [former director] Ayana Crichton a while back and we clicked really well. Our vision for the after school environment, for youth leadership and empowerment was the same. When I heard she was leaving for her new position with OneCranston, I was excited for her, but I was worried about having the ability to continue all of the work we had done and continuing that vision. We had just presented the Youth Empowerment Zone leadership program that we had created for our sites at a conference and I felt that the best opportunity for me to continue what we were doing, was to apply for the job myself. I had a lot of interest and a lot of passion for the programs, for the schools and for these kids.”

Now that DeCosta is in her new position, she is off and running, and having so much knowledge already under her belt has proved helpful.

After taking the first couple of weeks to familiarize herself with some of the things she didn’t know yet, her focus is now on the upcoming third annual Snowflake Ball, a family event and the programs’ biggest fundraiser. This year’s ball has recently changed venues and will be held at the Hope Youth Center on Dyer Avenue on Friday, Feb. 16 from 5-9 p.m. It is sock-hop style: formal attire and sneakers for the gym and includes music, raffles, awards and prizes. Registration can be found by visiting the website Cranstonafterschool.com and tickets will also be sold at the door.

Immediately following the Snowflake Ball, DeCosta and her crew will ready themselves for the February Vacation week’s vacation camp. DeCosta said that she has tried not to reinvent the wheel when it comes to these well-established programs that the students look forward to.

“My biggest priority is to maintain the vision and the structure that we have developed together and to continue to help these programs grow from there,” she said. “We continue the Youth Empowerment Zone, giving students the opportunities to grow and to succeed and to have a voice, as well as to help them feel that they have a future. The basic structure of the programs is not changing.”

Part of the duties DeCosta must take on include seeing the programs through an evaluation year. As part of the 21st Century Funds grant process through the Rhode Island Department of Education, the programs are evaluated on a regular cycle, and DeCosta looks forward to the process.

“This really helps us to improve and to grow and we like to get the feedback from our families, our community partners and from the families that we serve,” she said. “We want to make sure that the students, families, schools and staff all have their needs met. Student feedback is very important. It gives students a voice and the power to affect change. They’re not just numbers in a spreadsheet, they are important individuals whose voices are heard. This evaluation is not punitive, but it helps us see our strengths as well as our areas for growth.”

DeCosta said that while all of the weeks of summer camp and the spring vacation camp are not fully planned yet, the themes are being planned and a lot of great activities, field trips and learning opportunities are in the works, from immersion learning programs to STEAM projects and visits from the zoo to Fuel Up to Play 60 activities.

“The February vacation camp is open to kindergarten through eighth-grade students and registration closes for that on Feb. 14,” she said. “There will be camp from Tuesday through Friday and there will be a field trip in there as well. The camps are open to all Cranston Public Schools students whereas Bain and Kidventure programs are only open to the students at the schools where they are housed. We have kids from all over the district who come to our programs and we have many who come back every year. It’s fun to watch them grow up in these programs.”

DeCosta also looks forward to reconnecting with many of the students she has watched grow over the years as they come back to volunteer or to work in the programs as she settles in with her new role.

“This is a group that can learn together and grow together and the students who attend don’t want that to end, so they keep coming back as helpers, and sometimes to work,” she said. “It lets them stay involved in the program and continue on with a program that they loved. It’s a great testament to the program. It’s a place for them to get support from their peers and from adults around them who care about them and their success. Not all of them have that elsewhere and they don’t want to leave it behind after middle school.”

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