BAY MINETTE — A major concern for working parents and guardians are the hours after school ends but before the work clock stops. They want their children somewhere safe, but sometimes finding …
BAY MINETTE — A major concern for working parents and guardians are the hours after school ends but before the work clock stops. They want their children somewhere safe, but sometimes finding that place can prove challenging.
Cherry Penn, afterschool care programs supervisor with Baldwin County Public Schools, said that's a concern she and her team would like to put to rest.
"Afterschool care is not a daycare and it's not a babysitting service," she said. "We help with the academics. Whatever is being taught in the school day, we can do activities in afterschool that support that. So, students are learning, they're just learning in a different way."
This marks the 35th year the afterschool program has been in Baldwin County Public Schools. There are 26 afterschool care programs in the Baldwin County school system – in 24 elementary schools and two K-8 schools.
"Our number one focus is to keep our children safe, to provide a place for them while their parents are working," Penn said.
A major change in safety protocols began last year. Guardians no longer step into school buildings to pick up their children. Instead, an afterschool care worker meets them at the door with an iPad or computer, or a sign out sheet if the internet is down. Guardians show their PIN (personal identification number) to the worker, who then radios back to have the child sent to the front.
"PINs are assigned to each person individually, and they don't share those," Penn said. "That way if they ever need to know who picked up their child on a specific date, that number gives us that name. It's a really good safety feature and it's worked really well."
Safety measures begin long before a child checks out. During attendance, rolls are checked against the sign out sheet and the absentee report to ensure children that are supposed to be there are present, Penn said.
What goes on in afterschool programs?
Students begin afterschool programs with attendance, followed by a snack provided by the child nutrition program. They then move to grade level specific activities. Typically, younger children in PreK and kindergarten will head to the playground if they have no homework, while older grade levels remain inside. Once homework is finished, they too are taken to the playground.
"Some days we have a vendor, such as karate or dance or art, at no cost to the parent," Penn said. "It's just something interesting, and it keeps the children wanting to come and be there, because it's different."
Afterwards, students are divided into different activities, including toys, academically inclined games or activities.
Enrolling in afterschool
During enrollment period, Penn warns it's first come, first serve. Even when the enrollment deadline is over, Penn said enrolling to the waiting list is a good idea to get in line for an opening.
Registration costs $20. Depending on which program a child attends, afterschool care costs $20, $30 or $35 a week.
"We can keep the prices lower thanks to an ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund) grant," Penn said. "We have a unique program in Baldwin County, because a lot of programs depend on federal funding. We are in a unique position here because our programs are self-supporting. When we get grant money, that's just a perk for us and allows us to lower the fees or provide things that we couldn't otherwise."
Penn added afterschool care operates on the school calendar and is closed on days when school is closed.
Growing afterschool needs
Afterschool programs in Baldwin County schools used to average 20 students, Penn said. Today, those numbers are between 35 to 90 students per site. As of early October, there were 230 students on the waiting list, and 1,550 students enrolled in the program.
"If we had more employees, we could take more kids," Penn said. "The majority of our schools have space, only a few sites don't have space to expand, but generally staffing drives the size of the program."
Currently, 16 of the 26 sites need more workers, Penn said.
"We could put more children in a program if we had more workers, or we've had to stop at a certain number because we didn't have more staff," Penn said.
A recent way to meet this need is recruiting current Baldwin County schools' students participating in the Teacher Cadet Program. These are students looking to a future in education, who are placed in afterschool care programs to get experience working with children while still in high school.
But, Penn said, anyone who is looking for a part time job can apply. Applicants will undergo a background check and fingerprinting before entering into training.
"It doesn't matter if you're 70 or 19," she said. "I try to locate afterschool employees close to where they live, so if someone lives in Foley, I'm going to try to get them into a Foley school. They can start as early as 2:30 p.m. to help with PreK and then go to 5:30, or they can just work for that first hour when we're doing roll and snack. We work around the schedule you have if you just communicate that to the site manager."
To learn more about applying for employment with Baldwin County afterschool care programs, enroll your child on the waiting list or find more information about the program, visit www.bcbe.org/afterschool.