Flex Academies President Joshua Chernikoff interviewed Chris Nardi, Principal of Thomas Pyle Middle School in Bethesda, Maryland. Principal Nardi’s afterschool program is one of the biggest in the state. He has been a big supporter of Flex Academies over the years.
Flex Academies: Thanks for talking with us, Principal Nardi, and thanks for your support over the years. Can you tell us what impresses you most about Flex Academies?
Chris Nardi: I think one of the bigger pieces is the variety of courses and opportunities you guys have provided our kids. It kind of runs the gamut. With the cooking and the robotics and the computer pieces and the physical activities the kids are afforded, your programs are selling out within about 5 minutes of going live.
Flex: Wow. That’s some serious demand!
CN: I get phone calls, how do I get in, how do I get in? I think parents have loved it. Affordability has worked for us with our clientele. Mostly it’s come down to the variety of pieces. It’s not one size, it’s not one item, it’s a breadth of choices and that’s worked. We have what, one set of activities on a Tuesday and another set of activities on a Wednesday and another set of activities on Thursday. Some of them rotate. And you all have been very responsive to, ‘Hey have you thought of trying this?’ and then trying to get something that matches that interest and that need.
Flex: For principals, we obviously operate with your blessing, save for a few calls from parents saying ‘How can I get into this?’ We are there and we operate and hopefully we don’t put any burden on your front office staff. Can you talk about that?
CN: You know your group comes in, you know, with a lot of the protocols that have been put in place. They check in our main office and that’s really the last time that we really see them for the next hour. We have an afterschool activities coordinator who is able to address any additional needs that they may have. Generally speaking I haven’t had any issues with any kids, any issues with your instructors, knock on wood. I don’t want to jinx myself or anybody else, but the instructors have been great and the kids have been engaged and that’s why there are no issues.
Your instructors are creating engaging and enjoyable and interesting activities that kids don’t want to miss.
Flex: You have always been a proponent of the onsite coordinator. That is such a key component of what we do. Can you explain for other principals who may be reading this, how important the onsite coordinator is and what role he or she plays for you?
CN: Our onsite coordinator has been able to address rooming issues, where to get a room, if there’s an issue with a room, how to adjust the room, buses for kids, and how to contact the parents. She kind of takes care of the administrivia that may go on with how you have to navigate some of the programs after school. She’s also one of our teachers so she knows all of the protocols within our school. It makes it easy for her to transfer all of that information to your instructors. She coordinates all the things so your instructors don’t have to worry about what bus is my kid going to have to get on. That’s all been taken care of.
If there is an issue or concern they already have a point person designated, they don’t have to look for anybody else. Our point person sits in the front area, she makes herself visible and available and I think it really helps to ease that whole transition in the afterschool activities. They do run very smoothly. We don’t have any issues.
Flex: Let me ask you one last question. You’ve kind of talked about the nuts and bolts of Flex Academies. From a principal’s standpoint, this is always interesting to me because you get different answers: In your opinion, why is it important to have an afterschool program?
CN: I think it extends the learning day more than anything else and it gives kids choices to tap into their interests. I’ve always joked with people because I used to be a coach, and I said as a teacher you have a captured audience and as a coach you have a captive audience. As a teacher, your kids have to be there. Between 9 to 3 they have to be there, but if I’m doing an extracurricular, they’ve chosen to do that extracurricular and now I have a captive audience. I have a group that wants to be there. They want to learn, they want to extend. So having afterschool activities allows our kids to delve into the many very different interests they have and extend their learning. You have a robotics group, you have the gaming group, Minecraft, you have the cooking group and kids who maybe aren’t in during the day take a cooking class after school. Kids who maybe aren’t in our gateway class yet because they are in 6th grade take a robotics class now and it’s those opportunities that avail themselves to the kids beyond the learning day.
So they are learning without really realizing it. It’s not babysitting. Kids are active, kids are doing and kids are learning.
Flex: I could not have said that better myself. I really appreciate and have a better understanding now of why you are so passionate about what we do after school. We truly appreciate the support we get from you, your administration, the parents and the kids at Pyle. Thank you very much.
CN: We’ve enjoyed our partnership and hope to keep it going for a long time.
To watch this interview, please visit our Video On Demand site.