Project MOST is known for its after-school programs that serve approximately 280 students at the John M. Marshall Elementary School in East Hampton and the Springs School. But that’s not enough for Tim Bryden, the executive director of the 10-year-old program, who would like to see Project MOST’s numbers grow to 600 eventually, if the funding becomes available.
“Kids need to learn,” Mr. Bryden said passionately from his home office in Springs, a desk strewn with papers before him. “The children themselves are asking to learn more.”
Far from a baby-sitting service, Project MOST offers programs in yoga, science, technology, art, gardening, and even a newly minted chess club.
“We’re working to add 35 percent more time to the school day, to expand educational opportunities,” Mr. Bryden said.
At a time when many schools are forced into a program-cutting corner, Project MOST is seeking to expand enrichment education. But how important is it for children to learn more than reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic?
According to Afterschool Alliance, a national advocacy group, “the hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. are the peak hours for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and sex.”
On the positive side, according to Americans for the Arts, young people who participate in the arts — and arts are included in Project MOST — for at least three hours a day, three days a week are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, three times more likely to be elected to class office, four times more likely to participate in a math or science fair, three times more likely to win an award for school attendance, and four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem.
Project MOST charges parents $45 a week for the 3 to 6 p.m. program, which meets daily, and the rest of the yearly budget of approximately $356,000 is raised by payments from the districts, grants, and private donations.
On Sunday, one of the more popular fund-raisers, Empty Bowls, was filled to capacity with supporters of Project MOST and the Springs Seedlings Project, an offshoot of the after-school program. The Hamptons Marathon is also a boon, Mr. Bryden said, bringing in $30,000 this year.
“We’re working closely with the schools to develop more project-based learning,” he said. There is also a recently developed summer camp program, which was started to familiarize children with the beauty and bounty in the area.
But the three Rs get attention, too. “We offer academic support for all learners,” Mr. Bryden emphasized. “No kid in the school should ever get behind.”
There is a remedial reading group, “but it’s done in a way that’s fun and engaging,” he said. “More than half the kids here have jumped up several levels. Their reading has improved, and we only started in October with this,” he said. “We’re tapping into the love of reading, simply for the pure joy of it.”
He wants to make the “strategic alliance” between the districts and the program “smooth and seamless,” with more offerings focused on drama, chorus, the environment, intramural sports, and art.
Like other programs, however, Project MOST has had to tighten its proverbial belt, making cuts in administrative staff. Mr. Bryden and Rebecca Morgan do almost all the work themselves. There is no secretary or Web manager.
Mr. Bryden, unfazed by the changes, is confident that the project will survive and grow. “We’re asking the schools to maintain or strengthen their support,” he said.
“It’s such a thrill to see these kids learn,” he said, smiling. “I love to see the kids being amazed.”