The New York Junior Tennis and Learning’s (NYJTL) ACES Afterschool program returned to occurring in person shortly after the start of this school year across 34 Queens schools, including P.S. 37Q. In addition to providing entertainment for kids while also keeping them out of trouble, this free program also emphasizes teaching them important school and life lessons.
Led by Site Director Herlecia Owens, the program at P.S. 37Q offers an assortment of opportunities. These include tennis instruction, academic support, healthy living guidance, character education and multidisciplinary activities. Owens is also responsible for organizing club fairs, student and teacher appreciation awards, theme days and weeks and other engaging activities.
Owens has been a part of the school’s program since 2018. Despite having to take a long commute each day from Brooklyn, she looks forward to bringing joy to the kids at P.S. 37Q. While Owens noted that at this point she could probably ask to be transferred to a Brooklyn site closer to her home, she doesn’t plan on doing it due to her love of the community around P.S. 37Q.
“They just sucked me in with this wonderful community here,” Owens said. “I enjoy the students, the community and the school faculty. Ensuring that we have a safe, fun place for the students to be while their parents are working, ensuring that not only are we doing recreational activities, but also giving them academic enrichment, we want to make sure they’re having fun and doing something that allows them to do critical thinking.”
One recent addition that Owens made was adding a game room. One of its more prominent features is a giant chess board for the kids to play with. There’s also a ping-pong table.
Since the program’s return in late September, Owens has organized fall festival events as well as holding a banned book week, wherein attention is drawn to certain books that may be banned in certain areas of the country. Additionally, many of the program’s staff members, including Owens, dressed up as some of their favorite literary characters. As part of getting into the Halloween spirit, Owens was dressed up as the Cat in the Hat on the holiday.
Even with the pandemic mostly behind them, NYJTL is still offering the program through Zoom in case kids want to take part but are unable to make it. Additionally, this allows for parents and guardians to check in on their kids throughout the afternoon.
“One thing I will say about the community and the staff is that we’re all a family,” NYJTL P.S. 37Q Assistant Site Director Jomar Pascal said. “It’s great to build a bond with them.”
On Halloween, the students, already dressed in their costumes, took part in a variety of art projects. They were led in these projects by art specialist Jaiden Jack. Jack frequently contributes his artistic talents to NYJTL, including creating the Banned Books Week mural inside the school.
He also drew upon his own experiences as a kid to create multiple children’s books about “Jaiden Einstein.” According to Jack, his stories are meant to provide important life lessons for kids, including promoting hygiene and preventing bullying.
“I find joy in teaching children things like what I wanted to be taught when I was growing up,” Jack said. “It’s nice to be able to give them some insight on that.”
According to the school’s assistant principal, Robert Young, working with Owens and NYJTL has greatly benefitted the students. He noted the importance of an after program like this, which runs from 3 to 6 p.m., for parents who work long shifts and may not be available to leave work and take care of their kids before then.
“I have a great working relationship with [Owens],” Young said. “She does a great job working collaboratively with the school. We’ve done extravaganzas together that have spilled over into the regular school day. We discussed how we can use our teachers and funding to facilitate better tutoring and educational opportunities for the students during the after-school program.”