Most people my age can remember the days when after-school care meant some college kid throwing a coloring book and crayons at you while you stared at a clock waiting for 5:30 p.m. That’s when your parents, in theory at least, were due to pick you up.
Most adults who remember having to endure such childhood aggravations know that they want a different game plan for their 21st Century wee ones.
Enter Bonanza, an after school enrichment program founded in 2009 by three friends who “want to revolutionize education by teaching students the life skills needed to succeed in a quickly changing world.”
With backgrounds in education, entrepreneurship and Lego sales, the three decided to combine their talents to create a creativity-based education program that they see as fundamental in the public education system.
Their goal is to give students grades K-8 an opportunity to build creativity through aspects of education that aren’t traditionally offered in public schools. Some of their current activities include baking cupcakes, a filmmaking tutorial, robotics classes and—no surprise—Lego building.
The program, now starting its fourth school year, rotates around schools throughout the year. Currently its programs cover schools in 70 percent of metro Phoenix, including the Kyrene School District.
The program is not free, but co-founder Chris Piccirillo says that in order to fulfill the group’s goal of reaching as many kids as possible, tuition is adjusted as needed so that it remains affordable for every student in the Valley.
“We want to provide enrichment to all students no matter what their economic situation,” Piccirillo said.
In the future, Bonanza hopes to expand its reach in central Phoenix and possibly to Las Vegas and Tucson.
“We want to target every community,” Piccirillo said. “We want to change education in the process.”
In order to expand its reach in Chandler, Bonanza has partnered with another extra-curricular program, Gangplank Jr.
Operating out of the successful Gangplank collaborative workspace in downtown Chandler, Gangplank Jr. offers free classes one Saturday a month to kids who want to expand their horizons outside the classroom.
Gangplank brings in local volunteer experts from various fields including science and writing. Programs in the works for the next few months include stand-up comedy, blogging and a study of electrolysis. Bonanza will be volunteering its services for a Lego competition.
Selena Larson of the Downtown Chandler Community Partnership, an organization that helps produce Gangplank Jr., says that the program aims to bring out creativity in kids in every way possible.
“During one class, we asked the kids to build a ship,” she said. “In the end, kids built spaceships, pirate ships, warships—it was all up to their interpretation.”
The program currently hosts around 30 students, but hopes to expand its size this year by potentially offering two classes a month. Gangplank Jr. is also looking to offer workshops in architecture and videography and is recruiting potential volunteers to offer their services to keep the program running at its highest potential.
“For anyone who is interested in helping, it’s a really fun thing to do on the weekend,” Larson said. “We just want to make things fun for the kids; we want to bring them every great thing that we can.”
Gangplank Jr.’s next class is offered Saturday, Aug. 25 at the Gangplank offices, 260 S. Arizona Ave., downtown Chandler. The program is free and open to the public. More information can be found at www.gangplankjr.com.
Bonanza is currently offered at many Kyrene schools and will be available at others throughout the year. For a complete schedule and to register for classes, visit www.bonanzaed.com or the Kyrene district website at www.kyrene.org.
Editor’s note: At the ripe old age of 20, Daniel Rasmussen views his childhood in a kind of reverse time warp, mostly focused on the daily episodes of shows like Barney, Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, not to mention the super-hero antics of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That was reality television for a 6-year-old. Today’s tykes have a new road map for those growing-up years, one that would make even Baby Bop envious.