Starting young: Zero-Barrier after school program comes to Paso

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PASO ROBLES — Last year the Paso Robles Unified School District rolled out its new Zero-Barrier for Entry program into its elementary schools with great success. This program has been implemented at all six elementary schools in Paso Robles, and what the program does is allow for elementary kids grades fourth through sixth to learn, play and compete in athletics or visual and performing arts at absolutely no cost to the families. The program allows the kids to choose what sports they might want to try without pressure. If a boy or girl wants to learn to play soccer with their friends, they can simply walk out to practice after school gets out.

The program is about a lot more than sports — the root of it is all about helping the kids. The program aims to do three major things: Create lifetime lovers of movement — no matter what kids choose to do in their lives, whether it be a sport or playing the drums, being active is crucial in the development of healthy habits. Secondly the program aims to connect that movement into academic success — as kids learn and play together and make friends, they start to feel more comfortable in their classrooms. The more comfortable a child becomes the more likely they are to ask a question in class or help a peer.

“We’re really trying to ease that social tension in elementary school or middle school where kids don’t know where they fit,” Rich Clayton, the Director of K-12 Physical Education and Athletics said. “Well if you don’t fit here, now you can fit maybe in this art class, if you don’t fit there then come try out wrestling. But it doesn’t cost anything, in fact your parents don’t even have to be involved. We would love for them to be, but the system is set up so they don’t have to.”

Clayton mentioned that most parents that played soccer or baseball or basketball pay for their kids to play those sports. With this program the kids can choose what they want to do without any pressure on them from the families, and it also takes the burden off the parents because they don’t have to worry about paying for something their child might not like and stick with.

The program currently has almost 800 participants in the five sports for boys and six sports for girls. The sports are broken down into the seasons of the year, just like high school. Right now in the spring each of the schools is working on track and field and soccer. In the fall there is cross country and girls volleyball, and in the winter there is wrestling and basketball.

While this program helps develop happy, healthy children, it also helps develop incredibly strong and deep athletic programs at the high school level. There are many athletes every year that come out for sports teams in high school that have never played a minute of the sport they are about to join. This will probably still happen with this program in place, but the reasons behind it will be different. In years past a high schooler might start wrestling for the first time during freshman year because he or she had never seen the sport before, or maybe they didn’t want to spend money trying something they weren’t sure if they would like it. Now every student is exposed to every sport and can begin sticking to the ones they like most way before high school.

The Zero-Barrier for Entry program aims for kids to have fun and learn the game in elementary school. Middle school is the time for kids to learn the best fundamentals right as they are starting to mature, and once they reach high school they are competing at the highest level. The director of each sport is the head coach at the high school level, so the kids are coming up learning the same fundamentals and tactics that they will be using in high school.

The program is largely funded through school district funds, but that alone is not enough to keep the program running. The Paso Robles Unified School District is always looking for partner fundraisers and public help, as well as coaches that love helping kids reach their goals. If you are interested in donating or coaching please contact Rich Clayton at the district office.

On April 22, in an effort to get kids excited about soccer and college, the Cal Poly Men’s Soccer Team will be facing Fresno Pacific at the Paso Robles Horse Park. Admission for the event is free, and parking is $10 per car.

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