By Vincent Vala | Culpeper Star Exponent

After 10 years at Culpeper Middle School, Healthy Culpeper’s After School Arts program has relocated to Floyd T. Binns Middle School beginning with this year’s spring session.

The 8-week program, which offers a variety of classes each Thursday at Binns, is adminstered by the Teen Empowerment Coalition, a subcommittee of Healthy Culpeper.

The program normally offers fall and spring sessions to Culpeper County’s middle school and high school students.

Healthy Culpeper Director and After School Arts Program Coordinator Denise Walker said space was no longer available at CMS for the After School Arts program, so classes were not offered last fall.

During the winter, Walker said Binns Principal Sherri Harkness contacted After School Arts and offered space at Binns for the program’s classes.

“She heard we were looking for a venue, and she offered to let us use space here,” Walker said. “She’s been really great to work with. We love our new location.”

During the spring session, Walker said Virginia Transit is providing transportation via their trolleys to Binns for students from Culpeper County High School, Eastern View High School and CMS.

Walker said the arts program began in 2005 at CMS as a way to provide area teens with more positive options for things to do after school hours.

The program usually offers between five and seven different classes, with up to 60 students attending the sessions.

“The number of students depends on the number of classes we offer,” Walker said. “This session we have five classes, and we have about 40 students registered.”

This spring’s classes began March 10, and will continue through May 5, when an exhibition will be held for family and friends to see the work the students have done during the spring session.

Walker said the program requests a $15 donation to attend a session, but said the program doesn’t turn anyone away.

The money helps pay for the courses’ instructors and class supplies, Walker said.

Classes being offered this session include Raspberry Pi-based programming, guitar, healthy cooking, yoga and art journaling.

Walker said the classes are being taught by a group of qualified and talented instructors, many of whom are teachers in the county’s public schools.

Sal Rivas has been teaching the programming class along with his son, Nate, for four years now.

It has been one of the program’s more popular classes since it began.

“Raspberry Pi is a card that was developed in the United Kingdom,” Rivas said. “It was designed to be cheap so that any kid could afford to buy one and begin learning about coding.”

The cards run about $35 each, and Rivas said the After School Arts students get to take their materials home with them after the class is done.

“Hopefully they will continue playing with them and learning more about coding,” Rivas said.

Joshua Vesperman, a seventh-grader from CMS, said he returned to take the class a second time this spring.

“I took the class last spring, and I actually found it pretty difficult at first, but as I went on it got easier,” Vesperman said. “I came back because I like programming and I want to learn more about it.”

Andrew Karter, a student volunteer who helps teach the program’s guitar class, has been attending sessions for┬ámore than two years now. He now assists guitar instructor Alan Rasmussen with the class.

“I just love to have fun working with all the new students,” Karter said. “Mr. Alan got my guitar career started, and I wanted to give back and help others learn.”

Healthy Cooking instructor Alison Doyle is an eighth-grade math teacher at CMS, who said she originally planned on being a home economics teacher.

“I try to teach them healthier alternatives,” Doyle said. “Today, we are making a chicken stir fry. Stir fry is pretty healthy; there’s lots of vegetables and less meat.”

Binns eighth-grader Micah Jenkins said he took the class because he wanted to learn about cooking.

“I’ve always been interested in watching my parents cook, and I figured this was a good way to learn how to do it myself,” Jenkins said.

Walker said the After School Arts program is looking forward to next fall and spring, when they plan to offer a course using miniature cars that were donated by the Culpeper Soap Box Derby’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program through a grant by SWIFT.

“They have donated 40 miniature cars,” Walker said. “The students are going to be able to assemble them and race them during their classes.”