For the past month, Boys and Girls Clubs of Yellowstone County, Billings Public Schools and the 13th Judicial District Office of Juvenile Probation have been quietly running a program designed to provide a supportive environment for middle school students on long-term suspension.
On Monday, the clubs, the school district and Youth Court Services publicly announced the clubs' inclusion in the Frameworks Education Program as an avenue to provide afternoon programs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"It's part of our ongoing effort to find ways to help the kids who need to have it the most," said Brian Dennis, the clubs' chief professional officer.
Students suspended from middle school already attend programs at the Lincoln Center from 8 a.m. from 11 a.m. The program at the clubs' Bair Family Clubhouse, 505 Orchard Lane, has been running since mid-November and acts as an extension of those efforts.
Students in the program go through expanded courses such as Money Matters, which teaches them finance and budgeting skills; cooking classes and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) projects and experiments.
"The club atmosphere is exactly what we were looking for," said Tamra Covington, SD2's administrator for the Frameworks program. "We don't always have enough time to cover some of these projects, like in STEM, as we'd like."
The program also aims to ease the transition for the students back into school once their suspension ends and, hopefully, prevent them from repeating the behavior that got them into trouble in the first place.
Youth Court Services funds the program. Tara Moore, director of Youth Court Services, said that the court and SD2 identified the need early on for an afternoon program.
She said her office often sees the same students over and over and that prevention programs, such as Frameworks, can help.
"Hopefully, we don't see them again," she said. "The earlier that we can get to them, the more we can help. We want to catch the at-risk kids before we see them again."
Staffers with Boys and Girls Clubs of Yellowstone County also talked about a new program called Family PLUS Nights designed to foster discussion between school officials, teens and their parents.
Planned generally for the second Thursday of each month, the meetings incorporate entertaining competitions or activities with information and discussion.
For example, the Jan. 10 night combines a cooking competition pitting teens versus parents with nutrition education.
Tabith Kraack, the clubs' director of teen services, said that meetings between parents, teens and educators can often be stressful and contentious and they wanted to provide an alternative.
"We're providing a neutral territory," she said. "We can start to build some of those relationships."