Groups discuss student care

Many may join forces to provide supervision after school day ends

April 02, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Most parents want their children to be active, engaged and safe when they leave school. But not all schools offer care after hours and many that do end before parents get home.

This makes transportation a problem.

Many private agencies cost too much and kids find too many of the county's programs boring.

Issues like these prompted representatives from the Columbia Foundation, Horizon Foundation, Howard County school district and health, community, children's and family organizations to gather last week for a daylong summit on after-school programs.

Their idea: If community agencies and organizations combine resources, funding and efforts, Howard County could provide better, more efficient after-school programs for children.

Many of those organizations provide some type of before- and after-school care for children, along with places such as YMCAs, the Department of Recreation and Parks and private providers.

But the programs are not cohesive and often compete for funding and kids.

That's not the best way to take care of the many Howard County children who have nowhere to go at the end of the school day, said Columbia Foundation Executive Director Barbara K. Lawson.

"What we'd like to see happen is if the `Y' and Parks and Rec can get together and say, `Look, we're both doing swimming programs. Let's get together somehow,' so they can maximize the number of families that can benefit from them, instead of competing," Lawson said.

Programs that are doing well can be run a lot better, she said.

On Friday, summit participants discussed barriers to providing the best after-school care for young people. Included are:

Transportation: Many programs not located in schools have problems attracting children because they have no way to get there. Programs housed in schools have difficulty because children have no way to get home.

Funding: All programs are expensive, and most groups, especially schools, don't have the money to provide comprehensive after-school care without grants and donations. Too often, those grants are restrictive, aren't enough or are cut off after a certain amount of time.

Staffing: Many providers find it difficult to locate qualified program facilitators who are willing to work in the evening for fairly low pay.

Space: Schools provide the best space for after-care programs, but many groups are hindered by ordinances that restrict what areas of schools can be used. Other places, such as community centers, cost too much.

Student interest: No matter how much money organizations have, children, especially teen-agers, are easily bored. Many would rather be in a house by themselvesthan at school in a homework club or play group.

"Middle school is probably the most needy," said Alice Haskins, the county schol district's director of middle schools. "They're too old to be in elementary school, to young to drive. They're at probably the most critical periods of their lives. It's up to us to provide programs for them."

Mary Larner of the Packard Foundation told the group that nationwide, 23 percent of elementary school children are involved in after-care programs, but only 5 percent of seventh-graders are.

"So you can see the disparity," Haskins said.

The summit -- held at the Howard County Stafding for after-school programs that the General Assembly approved this session. The initial planning grant would be more than $175,000, and the county would be eligible for up to $825,000 more.

With effective use of that funding and more cooperation among agencies, after-school care in Howard could improve significantly, said Richard M. Krieg, Horizon Foundation president.

"[The] issue that this summit addressed is a critical issue that often gets swept under the rug," Krieg said. "It's really in the after-school hours that we lose many of our youth. There's a constant barrage of sexually explicit and violent material on TV, and a lot of that is interesting to them. So the after-school programs have to be just as interesting. And we have to reach as many of them as we can."

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