After a scheduled homework session from 3:15 to 4:30 p.m., students are treated to a movie and refreshments donated from local establishments. But the day-to-day benchmark, according to director Ken Winston, is to get homework done in a relaxed environment with tutors available.
Winston's hopes, though, are far-reaching when it comes to children who are struggling in school, and, perhaps, headed for trouble.
"We're hoping to bridge the gap between kids and adults, rich and poor," he said, practically looking across his kneecaps as he sat in a blue plastic chair designed for a 6-year-old. "And give kids that wouldn't normally have, access to opportunities, hopes and dreams. I know it sounds generic, but it's real."
Winston is the director of Move Ahead, an after-school program intended to intervene with students before bad habits are ingrained and self-inflicted setbacks are insurmountable.
The program is in its first official year with a paid staff of two, thanks to funding from the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation, Chester County Drug and Alcohol, and Lockheed Martin. Volunteers from Phoenixville Area High School make up the bulk of the tutors, but other high school and local community college students show up regularly as well.
Winston's assistant director is Jessica Walker, and both are counselors with the Lincoln Center for Families and Youth, a nonprofit organization in Bridgeport that runs alternative schools for children having problems in traditional learning environments.
Move Ahead is the result of the efforts of several community leaders, officials and administrators. But all seem to agree that without Winston, the program would not exist.
"Ken Winston is a very creative and resourceful man," said Barkley principal Karen Coldwell. "He has brought this program a long way."
Responding to nationwide calls from black leaders in preparation of the Million Man March, which encouraged greater family and community involvement in the lives of young people, Winston began Phoenixville Area Positive Alternatives (PAPA) in 1994.
Winston wanted children in the area, especially those in single-parent homes, to have a place to go after school to do homework, stay out of trouble, and adopt a role model.
The group began with fall and summer athletic leagues to give children something constructive to do when school was out. A tutoring program was soon implemented and held at the Phoenixville Community Center and Library.
Word spread and the Phoenixville Area School District, spurred by principals' requests, began looking for ways to get Winston more involved with the students.
In July, the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation responded with the largest contribution, $84,000. Winston now spends his days at Phoenixville High School and Middle School, where he splits time between counseling wayward students and recruiting others to do the same.