On January 19, 1999, eighty middle school students from the Kennett area became pioneers. They were the first to participate in a journey that has spanned 20 years and they have seen close to 6,000 students follow in their footsteps. That journey takes place… AFTER-THE-BELL!
Over the years, these students have participated in countless activities with names like Brain Base, The Lollipop Factory, Awesome Autos, Giving Back, Let’s Make a Movie! and Hands On, Boots in the Water. They have engaged in all manner of sports, cooked dishes from all over the world, learned how to solve crimes using forensics, mastered the latest dance steps, created works of art suitable for framing, and written, directed and starred in their own mini-feature films. Most importantly, they discovered new passions and learned new skills that may well have transformed their lives and their career trajectories.
After-The-Bell began as the brain child of three extraordinarily dedicated and tenacious people who saw a problem in Kennett Square in the late 1990s and set out to solve it. John and Denise Wood, and Marshall Newton were all members of the Episcopal Church of the Advent in Kennett Square. They participated in a listening study to understand and explore challenges faced by local residents. “We became aware of a pressing need in the community,” John and Denise wrote in a 1999 article for the Kendal-Crosslands newsletter. “We were aware that the time of greatest danger for young people in the Kennett Square area and in the towns of America today is the time between 3 and 6 pm—when they are on their own, after school lets out and before most parents come home from work. We had been saying to each other, ‘Let’s do something to meet this need.’”
With the original working title “Three to Six,” John, Denise and Marshall created the model for a program in which all middle school students could attend at no cost, there would be no cost to the school district, and dozens if not hundreds of people would volunteer to share their expertise and their time to keep these students safe and engaged in meaningful activities after school. They imagined that— with the strong support of the Kennett Consolidated School District—individuals, businesses, foundations and organizations would donate money to turn this model into a reality.
Twenty years later, After-The-Bell (so named by one of the original students), is as strong and vibrant as the three founders had envisioned. “I’m not sure they would be surprised at how successful After-The-Bell has been over the years,” said Board President Rudy Karkosak. “They had tremendous, well-founded faith in the spirit and compassion of the Kennett Community and they were confident the program would thrive. But I do think that if they were here with us today, they would feel exceedingly proud of how their statement—Let’s do something to meet this need—has improved the lives of thousands of children for 20 years and counting.”