URBANA — School was already out, but some students at Yankee Ridge Elementary in Urbana were still learning as they gathered over chess boards in one classroom and talked about ways to reuse plastic containers in another.
In the school's dance studio, dance and drama teacher Betty Allen taught a room full of fourth- and fifth-graders dramatic movements, first accompanied by their coordinated, barefoot stomps and the click of rhythm sticks in their hands, and then by loud, energetic music.
The three classes are all a part of the Yankee Ridge PTA's after-school enrichment program.
The program has been around for at least about 20 years, with the goal of giving students experiences they might not encounter elsewhere, said Dana Mancuso, this year's coordinator for the program.
This semester, classes also include the game of cricket, taught by members of the University of Illinois Cricket Club, Junior Naturalists with the Urbana Park District, a class called Storymakers with local author Alice McGinty, Pets are Fun with Clay Foley of the Champaign County Humane Society, a chorus and Bharata Natyam, a classical Indian dance form.
The PTA charges a fee for the enrichment program, but it's waived for students who are on free and reduced lunch. Different classes are offered every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this semester, and they'll all last about six weeks.
This year, the PTA also has a bus for students who need transportation home.
The program has been going on at least since 1994, Mancuso said, and files from that year mention how the program worked in years before that, she said.
Even then, the stated goal in a flier was "to provide students with academic and cultural opportunities which may not be available elsewhere in the community," she said.
In 1994, the program's offerings included basic sign language, building model airplanes, cooking, magic, drawing, beginning gymnastics and decorated clothing.
Mancuso worked with Natalie Kenny Marquez, the city of Urbana's marketing coordinator to create the Urbana A to Z class this year, which helps kindergartners through second-graders learn more about how the city works.
So far, the class' students have had visitors from Urbana's public works department, farmer's market and Jason Liggett of Urbana Public Television, who even interviewed them about why they love Urbana.
They'll see the resulting video next week, during their last week of class.
Employees "are very eager to talk to the kids," Kenny Marquez said. "People have really gotten into it."
The students already know quite a bit about the city, she said, especially about where sculptures are located around town, Kenny Marquez said.
Fifth-grader Luca Manton is taking the dance enrichment class this semester and said she has taken it before, as well as the chorus class. She enjoys the creativity of the dance class, she said.
"It's really fun," she said. "I get to be with my friends, and they like it, too."
Fourth-grader Lucas Wood is taking enrichment classes on chess and cricket. He's particularly interested in chess and has entered tournaments and attended summer camps. He's also familiar with cricket, as his dad is from Australia and played in college, as well, he said.
He said he liked the fact that the program offers an activity that's located in his school.
"It's sorta fun," he said of the enrichment program. "You get to do things you like with a lot of other kids."