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Ligonier Valley YMCA looks to expand middle school program

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Brian F. Henry | Trib Total Media
Gabby Bubin, 11 of Laughlintown, plays dodge ball at the the Ligonier Valley YMCA as part of the Middle School Initiative. taken by Brian Henry on Tuesday, April 9, 2013.

Other than organized sports, there are few after-school programs offered for middle schoolers in Ligonier Valley, according to school officials, parents and students.

If it weren't for the Ligonier Valley YMCA's program — offered Tuesdays and Thursdays for one hour after school — 11-year-old Andrew Kuzemchak said he wouldn't have much to do.

“If I wasn't here, I would probably be sitting at home, doing nothing,” Kuzemchak said. “It's a lot of fun. I get to see my friends, and I get exercise.”

Y officials hope to expand the program for next year to two hours after school, five days a week.

“We have a good relationship with the school district and we're constantly seeking ways to impact the community through the schools and meet the needs of students and parents,” said Ben Wright, executive director of the Y.

The proposed changes came in response to feedback from middle-school students and their parents at district-organized community meetings held earlier this year.

“It's a valid concern from parents and students — for some type of program to be provided for children,” Superintendent Chris Oldham said. “And if there aren't activities that students look at as enjoyable, they look for other, less-productive ways to spend their time.”

The Y's program focuses on physical activity and healthy living seminars.

“Studies have shown that between the ages of 11 and 14, kids make a conscious or unconscious decision whether to lead an active lifestyle,” Wright said.

This past year, the program was expanded to include larger events such as a dodgeball tournament, use of the Y's pool, snow tubing at Hidden Valley, a dance, and nutrition seminars for students and their families.

This summer will mark the program's third year, funded by the Pittsburgh-based Grable Foundation. Wright said he plans to apply to the Grable Foundation to fund the expanded program, but it might have to be supplemented by a small fee for parents. It would cost an additional $15,000 to offer the program for free, Wright said.

Kuzemchak's father, Michael Kuzemchak, said he would favor the expanded program.

“It's a nice asset to the community for kids that age to have some place to go to be active,” he said. “It's a real nice option for us, as parents. We live in a somewhat rural area of the township, and it's nice for (Andrew) to be socializing with kids who he otherwise wouldn't see after school.”

If the program expanded, it would include a structured physical activity in the first hour. Tutoring would be available during the second hour.

“This is what parents are asking for. We've had this program in place, and we're just trying to say that we understand what you're saying and we're trying to find a feasible way to answer your needs,” said Ryan Podlucky, a Ligonier Middle School teacher who acts as a liaison between the YMCA and the district.

Oldham said the weekly turnout has demonstrated success in the program. About 75 students participated in the dodgeball tournament, and 68 students attended the snow tubing trip.

Podlucky said one of the challenges of the program is transportation home for the students. A parent has to pick a student up at the conclusion of the program.

Oldham said the district is looking for creative ways to provide transportation, including pursuing grant funding.

“It's worth looking into, especially if a program like that is going to continue to grow,” she said.

The district is also considering the expansion of other programs in response to the community meetings, including pursuing a grant to provide preschool services at Laurel Valley Elementary School and providing some adult education.

Jewels Phraner is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218 or