Dayton students find fun in latchkey program

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Gracie Dickenson, 6, displays her turkey's gumdrop hat during an activity at the latchkey program at Sutro Elementary last week.

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Gracie Dickenson, 6, displays her turkey's gumdrop hat during an activity at the latchkey program at Sutro Elementary last week.

Clap-clap, clap-clap-clap.

That's all it takes to silence the controlled chaos taking place in the gym of Sutro Elementary School in Dayton. With 40 pairs of eyes now peering up at her, Lyon County Recreation Administrator Jill Council gives directions on how to make Thanksgiving turkeys.

Over the next 45 minutes, the children turn apples, gumdrops and toothpicks into a variety of sweet creations.

"It kind of looks like a little man with eyeballs," said 7-year-old Dallas Evans.

The children are participating in one of Lyon County's five latchkey programs, located at Dayton, Sutro, Fernley, Silver Stage and Cottonwood elementary schools.

"It's a parks and recreation program for working parents that provides a safe and cost-efficient place for children in kindergarten through fifth grade to go before and after school," Council said.

There is also a teen program at Dayton Intermediate School and another program is just starting up at Silver Stage Intermediate School.

The latchkey programs are on a drop-in basis, meaning parents don't have to bring their children every day, and aren't required to use both the morning and afternoon sessions. The program costs $5 for the morning session, $7 for the afternoon session and $9 for both.

It offers a variety of activities including arts and crafts, games and homework time.

"We try to change it all the time, but if we are playing one of their favorite games, they will just keep playing forever," said Council.

But 10-year-old Ashelyn Lee and 6-year-old Gracie Dickenson said it's more than just the activities that make them want to come to the program.

"I like my friends being here because when they are not here it's not as fun," said Lee as she watched Dickenson finish her turkey.

Across the table, 9-year-old Michael Dieneman was putting the finishing touches on his turkey when his face lit up at the sound of two words.

Star Wars.

"They have fun games here, and I like the people who work here. 'Star Wars' is my favorite game," said Dieneman.

In a massive stampede, the children clear their turkeys and assemble in a circle for the start of the dodgeball-style game.

Parents have their own reasons for liking the program.

"She gets to be with kids her own age, and they actually do things with them. She just loves it here, plus it's convenient because it's at the school," said Missie Wilkinson, whose 9-year-old daughter Gabriel Vanotghem participates in the program.

Council said that in addition to the program's benefits for the children, the staff gets something positive as well.

"When I have a really bad day, I can come and play with the kids and my frustrations are gone," she said. "To watch and see these young minds grow and change daily, that's just so fun."

The 15-year-old program attracts between 40 and 65 kids per day, depending on the location, with 135 registered at Sutro Elementary alone.

"We have the greatest group of kids here; they are wonderful to work with," Council said.

As the noise level rises behind her, Council turns and raises her hands, ready once again to quiet the chaos.

n Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at or 881-1217.


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