MARSHALL - At the start of the 2010-11 school year, the Marshall Public Schools and the Marshall YMCA joined forces in order to provide a much needed service for children.
According to a survey conducted in the spring, 84 percent of parents of primary level children stressed that they had after-school child care needs.
"So many parents struggle to find any type of opening (in child care) after school," Marshall Elementary Principal Heidi Critchley said. "We did a survey last spring and it indicated that our parents would be interested if we could make it happen. We're lucky enough to have the YMCA support to do this."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Micha Clark, right, watches as Natasha Reinsma dangles from the playground equipment at Park Side Elementary Monday at the YMCA/Marshall district after-school program.
While the nations's YMCAs have been engaging kids in various after-school programs for more than 50 years, this is the first time that the organization in Marshall has provided care in connection with the school at the primary level, which is considered kindergarten through fourth grade.
"In the past, we picked up the West Side (Elementary) kids and brought them to the Y," said YMCA's Youth Development Director Monica Vierkant. "The Park Side (Elementary) kids used to get bused here by Southwest Coaches."
This year, children participating in the program gather at Park Side, with the West Side students being transported by the YMCA bus.
"It's nice that the little ones don't have to get on a bus," Critchley said. "They stay right at Park Side after school and go home when a parent signs them out."
The program runs from 3-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and is directed by YMCA staff members.
"Our program provides safe, productive and creative activities for elementary school youth during after school hours," Vierkant said. "Our parents seem to be very happy with the program. Not having to bus their students and avoiding that transition point has been key for parents, as well as knowing that their kids are with trained adults in a structured curriculum."
Vierkant said that the Y rotates four support staff, made up of a licensed site supervisor and education majors. She also pointed out that the state guidelines require a 1:15 ratio, but the Y likes to exceed that number with a 1:12 ratio.
In the survey, parents also stated that they had child care concerns on teacher workshop days (66.7 percent of parents with children in K-2), snow days (55.9) and holiday breaks (50.5). About half as many parents of third and fourth graders also indicated the same needs.
"When it's a day that is not scheduled for school, we have a 'Schools Out Camp,'" Vierkant said. "It's from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the YMCA, and we try to utilize things like swimming and gym time"
Field trips and outdoor activities, like sledding in the winter, are also incorporated as much as possible, weather permitting. The Y also provides kids with a daily snack, purchased from the district's school lunch vendor, Taher Foods.
"We're very happy with the numbers," Vierkant said. "They're up from last year. But one thing I don't think people realize is that we're a non-profit organization and we do offer financial assistance if needed. We don't turn anyone away."
While providing a safe environment for the children was essential, the program has an educational base. The Y's passion revolves around its cause: "to strengthen the foundations of community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.
"We focus on academic skills, where if they need help with homework, we'll provide it," Vierkant said. "We still like that parent interaction though, and we have a direct connections with students' teachers. It's a direct extention of their school day which makes it a quality program."
Character building is another focus of the after-school program, with caring, honesty, respect and responsibility at the core.
Critchley said that the elementary teachers have been extremely helpful with the new venture.
"We're trying to keep a connection to the school day," Critchley said. "The teachers have been putting together skill packets for the kids. It's a wonderful program that the YMCA put together. There's a variety of social, academic and physical activities involved."
Vierkant also believes that the new program is headed in the right direction.
"It's been very positive," she said. "There hasn't been any kinks that have had to be ironed out, and we're really starting to get that connection with the classroom."