Fun & Fit Aftercare Celebrates Its Third Year!

We sat down with Fran and TJ Coakley, founders of Fun and Fit Aftercare, to learn more about their unique before and after school program and Summer Camp.

Fun and Fit Aftercare, founded by Fran and TJ Coakley, owners of Main Street’s OKKA, will celebrate its three-year anniversary in September. The Coakleys created Fun and Fit Aftercare with an intent to provide a new and innovative before- and after-school program for children grades K-6. Fran, a lifelong educator, designed the unique curriculum focused on structured play, exercise, academic support, social and physical development. Over three years, their programing has evolved although their commitment to the students of Harrison Township has not. 

We sat down with Fran and TJ to learn more about their unique before- and after-school programs and summer camp.

Happening in the Hill (HitH):  What has been the “lessons learned” over the past three years? How have these lessons influenced what Fun and Fit is today vs. your original vision? 

Fran: Our vision and focus have remained consistent, our intent has always been to be an enrichment program focusing on academics, fitness, and fun in a safe and nurturing environment that children enjoy being in.

The “lessons learned” part; ensure everything we do is driven by the needs of the families we service and the children in our care.  

I believe that academic focus is something that continues to set our program apart from others. As a certified NJ K-12 teacher I had specific goals in designing our academic programing. We know reading is critical to academic success. Our academic approach includes a minimum of 20 minutes of silent reading per day (except Fridays) for our older group. For our early readers, we have an instructor lead story time, or one-on-one reading sessions. We assist with homework and consider ourselves “micro tutors” – we don’t just give kids the answer, we work them through the process and teach. We also have a dedicated laptop for Khan and Reflex math and Alexa units for those ad-hoc questions and geography bees that break out from time to time. 

TJ: We have also changed some of our physical activities and we started a rotation program for many of the toys and games we have available to the children. So, they have access to fresh play options frequently.

Fran: Another needs-based decision was to add a summer camp program. It became obvious that families needed care in the summer months and that we would be a year-round program.

HitH: Tell us about the camp program.

Fran: We call it Camp Fun and Fit, and I am very proud of it. The summer is a time for fun and relaxation. A chance for children to socialize and play. I believe play provides a great opportunity to teach as well – so we maintain our academic focus and keep the children learning.  

Our summer camp is full day – 6:45am to 6:00pm. Each week has a unique theme with most weeks having a theme related field trip, such as Lego Master Week where children build age-appropriate projects independently and in small groups. We also do Legos challenge builds throughout the summer to support the themes and the learning objective of the themes. The challenges involve individuals and small groups tasked with a specific goal. One example is to build something that could fly, or something that floats. It is interesting to see the peer groups work cooperatively to create something and how imaginatively different their solutions can be. 

Another camp favorite is our STEM week. We always include Flight, and then mix in some Geology, Weather, and Electricity themes.  Last year we did a lemon and potato battery project. For the Flight aspect of the week the older children build a rocket kit which they will launch during the field trip to a local park. For the younger children, projects include paper and balsa wood planes, balloon powered helicopters, and will fly them at our field trip as well.

HITH: Fun and Fit launched in September of 2019, by March of 2020 covid had shut down the country – how did this effect Fun and Fit?

TJ: Where do I begin …. As you pointed out the pandemic hit just seven months after Fun and Fit’s opening. The needs of the families we serviced dramatically changed overnight. We had to pivot several times as the approach the schools were taking went from paper based, to virtual to half-day virtual etc. Our operational procedures and processes, our infrastructure, the schedule, all changed overnight. There were challenges in getting PPE, cleaning supplies and many of the other day-to-day supplies we needed to run the program. What didn’t change was the focus on doing whatever we needed to do to help our students be successful in whatever mode they were in.  

Fran: What doesn’t kill you…makes you stronger. Although, I would never want to go through it again, I do believe we are better for it, and we kept quite a few of the lessons learned from the experience. 

HitH: How have you become better? 

Fran: Because it forced us, as TJ said, “to pivot”. That process started by looking at the evolving needs of the families we service and their children in our care.  We put our “parent hats” on and asked ourselves, “what we would have needed if we found ourselves in the same situation” that parents and their children were currently in. 

Fortunately, for much of my career I was a public-school educator. I was very comfortable reaching out to many of the children’s teachers and gathering information on how best to support the students and families of our community and many from beyond Harrison Township. 

Of course, we went virtual, we modified our schedule based on how students were now going to school and helped parents navigate the virtual model. In response to the unprecedented situation that educators, parents and children found themselves in, our efforts were focused on meeting the evolving needs as they came along. 

We are better because today we are continuously focused on the needs of our students and families we serve. It is a formalized process for us, every decision, procedure, and process begin by answering the question; How will we meet or improve upon meeting the needs of our students and the families we serve? It is the methodology in how we operate. This formal approach is serving us well, although more importantly it is the best way we can meet the needs of the families we serve and their children in our care.

 

It was pleasure talking to TJ and Fran Coakley and learning about Fun and Fit’s programming.

About Fran and TJ Coakley

Fran Coakley
Fran holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education with Minors in English and Social Studies. She has 3 teaching certifications and 10+ years of classroom experience in the K-12 education arena. Fran is licensed Karate instructor with 16+ years of martial arts experience and holds the rank of 5th Degree Black Belt.

TJ Coakley
TJ holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, a Minor in Sociology, and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. He retired from corporate life and became a Certified Personal Trainer and is an adjunct professor at Rowan University. TJ is also a licensed Karate Instructor, a 5th Degree Black Belt and has 10+ years of experience coaching youth sports in Harrison Township.

Fun and Fit Aftercare

Learn More About Fun and Fit Programs and OKKA Karate by clicking the links below: 

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Fun and Fit/OKKA Karate
33 S. Main Street, Mullica Hill, NJ 08062
Email: [email protected]
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 856-418-1592