After-school program closure concerns parents

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Brookhaven School Board met with concerned parents in anexecutive session Tuesday night regarding the phasing out of anafter-school program at a local elementary school.

he Mamie Martin Elementary after-school and summer program,which cares for children until parents can get off work to pickthem up, has been in place for over 20 years. However, when theschool board decided to close it and sent home letters a few weeksago, some parents became concerned, stating worries they wouldn’tbe able to find somewhere else affordable and convenient in theamount of time allowed by the school district.

Brookhaven School Superintendent Lea Barrett said the decisionto end the program was partially based on staffing issues andpartially on enrollment.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“It’s hard to get certified teachers that want to work allsummer and after school,” she said. “That was the trigger, and theenrollment has been down a little bit.”

School officials had commented that the backlash of parents whoneeded the program might lead them to take another look at thedecision to do away with it. Parents lined the halls of thedistrict office Tuesday night, hoping some decision would bemade.

Barrett said the decision would have to be one the board wouldmake, but no action was taken on the issue Tuesday night. Parentswho attended the meeting said they were told there were legalissues, which could not be discussed, that needed to be addressedbefore the program could be reinstated.

One of those issues could be different kinds of certificationsrequired for day care workers and actual certified teachers,Barrett said.

“That’s something we definitely want to look at and see where westand on that,” she said. “That’s kind of an after-the-fact issue,but we just want to make sure we have our ducks in a row.”

Barrett said the board is open to the idea of keeping theprogram in place.

“The board did hear presentations from parents who expressed adesire to keep daycare open,” Barrett said. “The board said theywere looking at two issues and were able to give them some answersto their questions. The board appreciated their issues and is notopposed to continuing the after-school program.”

Donna Smith said her son Colton Etheridge has been in theprogram for two years. Smith said she felt most of the parentsinvolved wouldn’t mind paying a little bit more than they had inpast years just for the sake of saving the program.

“They’re talking about staffing, but they’re also talking abouttuition and insurance and things,” she said. “It’s OK with most ofus to go up on the cost.”

Smith said the program was especially important to her forconvenience’s sake.

“It helped because I have to drive all the way to Jackson everyday,” she said. “I was having problems already getting back by5:30.”

Hardest hit, Smith said, are transplant families and those whodon’t have roots in the Brookhaven community. She said when parentscan’t be there at closing time to pick up their children and takethem home or to another facility, it’s a helpless feeling.

“We don’t have family that can help us with our kids,” she said.”We have to depend on child care systems.”

Another issue expressed is the idea that some parents will notbe able to afford other after-school programs, and that theirchildren might have to come home to an empty house.

“The first thing we’re worried about is safety for children,because you don’t want them at home by themselves,” said NicoleReady, whose 5-year-old daughter Bella is a kindergarten student atMartin. “Certainly it’s about convenience, but that’s not even themain issue. We’re talking about safety for our kids.”

Several parents discussed the cost of after-school care, andwhether or not it would be worth just sending their children toprivate school, which in their opinion could come out comparablecost-wise to some of the local programs.

In addition to the fact that after-school care gives childrensomewhere safe to be after school until their parents are home,parents say there are other reasons the program has been importantto their families.

“Of course there are benefits of having teachers help our kidswith their homework,” Ready said. “With after-care it also promotestheir scholastic education, because Bella comes home with herhomework done when she’s there. It also promotes family time.”

But for the ones who don’t have the finances, children couldstill be coming home with a window of time to spend on their owneach day. Ready said this could be a problem for other reasons.

“We’re the most obese state in the United States,” she said. “Ifyou bring those kids home, they’re more apt to sit home and watchtelevision or play video games. And if they’re at the school,they’re playing on the playground or getting other physicalactivity.”