ARLEE - If you shop at Wilson Foods in Arlee today and notice some decoration on your grocery bag, don't fret. The bags were just spruced up by participants at Arlee's Friday Free Three program in honor of Earth Day.
This month's activities centered on the Earth and taught the children about recycling and keeping it healthy.
The program, started in October, is in its pilot year. On one or two Fridays of each month, Friday Free Three is offered as a place for children grades K-6 to hang out for three hours on Fridays. Crafts, activities and games are set up by program coordinator Kim Folden. The funding for it comes from grants from the state.
Ever since the Arlee schools went to a four-day week, there became the need for a place where students can go on Fridays.
Now, in its seventh month, the program averages about 12 students each time, with as little as four to as many as 18 showing up, Folden said.
"Even though the numbers are small, we have some kids that haven't missed one yet," she said.
With the weather behaving, Folden said she is able to incorporate more outdoor activities. During the winter months, the group was limited to indoor shenanigans and often ventured out of the classroom into the multipurpose room near the old gym. Folden said one fun activity was playing hot potato with an ice cube and mittens.
The response to the program has been positive.
"I think [the response] has been good," Folden said. "I do wish the numbers were higher."
In its first year, Folden said each time the program is held, it's a learning experience.
"I learn what's a good idea and what's not," she said.
Most of the time, crafts are involved and Folden comes up with the ideas by scouring magazines for ideas or relying on teachers or parents to submit ideas. Folden incorporated more cultural events into the schedule. An African unity group from Missoula visited and danced for the children.
During the holiday season, the group went caroling and recently learned about the postal service by creating cards and mailing them out.
Another aspect to the program is teenage volunteers. Folden said she likes to have two to three teens, depending on the scheduled activities.
"It gives them an opportunity to have community service on their resumes," she said. "The younger kids interact really well with them since [the high school students] are still like kids. The more the merrier."
As kindergartner Austin Baldwin worked on his art project, Arlee senior Jesse Pfau entertained him with jokes.
"How do you make a tissue dance?" Pfau asked. Baldwin shook his head, he didn't know.
"Put a little boogie in it," Pfau finished as Baldwin erupted in laughter.
Folden said she hasn't had a volunteer yet who hasn't participated in the day's activities.
"I love to watch the enthusiasm," she said.
One volunteer was a Russian foreign exchange student and the children were able to learn about his heritage.
"The kids thought he was awesome," she said. "We always learn more than we mean to."
In the future, Folden said if the program continues, she would like to have more parental involvement paired with more field trips out of Arlee as well as more kids show up.
"I'd like to take them to Missoula or St. Ignatius," she said. "Just out of Arlee."