Staying after school can be a good thing. At least that’s the belief of those putting together an after-school activities program for elementary school students in Rappahannock County.
Apparently, the students think so, too. A survey taken to gauge their interest drew an enthusiastic response from the target audience of younger students and their parents — as well the high school students who would serve as volunteer mentors.
The program, scheduled to start at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, would offer activities to entertain and educate — arts and crafts, gardening and indoor and outdoor games from 3:15 to 6 p.m. during the two days of the week the program would be offered at the elementary school. Parents would have to pick up their children at 6 p.m..
Besides the activities, students could also do homework and receive extra help from teachers present.
Representatives from 4-H and other programs of Virginia Cooperative Extension plan to offer instruction in areas such as agriculture and natural resources, gardening, family and consumer science, forestry and nutrition.
The program has the support of Superintendent of Schools Aldridge Boone, who outlined the program during a presentation to the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors on Monday.
Though it is to be sponsored and primarily funded by the nonprofit Headwaters Foundation, the supervisors were asked to provide seed money to help get the program off the ground.
No action was taken by the board after the members heard an description of the program by Boone, school board member Beth Hilscher and Headwaters board member John Lesinski.
Boone noted that 316 high school and elementary school students said in the survey that they would participate in the program if it is offered.
“I think there is a need for this type of program,” Boone said. “It has a huge community service component” in that it uses high school volunteers as mentors to the younger children.
“I think it will better prepare our kids. I give it my endorsement,” Boone said.
The school division would be obliged to provide transportation to the students if it, rather than Headwaters, were to offer the program itself.
Supervisor Michael Biniek wondered if there wasn’t a late bus system already in place for after-school activities like sports or band. Boone replied, “No.”
Supervisor Ronald L. Frazier asked if the Scouting organization had been approached about involvement in an after-school program. “Maybe the emphasis should be on the strengths of other programs,” he said. “I would think the Boy Scouts should be a large component. I think we should contact them before we start talking about coughing up $30,000 or $20,000.”
Supervisor Chris Parrish asked how a child would get home after the program ends for the night if a parent didn’t show up on time.
He wondered “if parents who need the [bus] service” would be compelled not to participate for that reason.
Boone said that there are ways to deal with a situation like that.
“We can probably come up with volunteers” to provide rides, but he said he didn’t think a ride-home system would be needed all that often.
Hilscher noted that in the survey that was conducted, parents were advised that they would have to provide transportation home.
Headwaters board member Lesinski said the county’s parks and recreation board and the 4-H were considered as possible “stewards” of the program, but that Headwaters decided to take a lead role.
“It will be the most ambitious and expensive” undertaken in the organization’s history, Lesinski said.
A part-time program director will be hired, who in turn will hire staff and raise funds, he added.
The initial cost of the program has been pegged at $60,000. Half of the cost will be covered by in-kind contributions, such as use of the elementary school’s “cafetorium” at no charge and free use of 4-H programs, plus student fees. The county is being asked to put up the remaining half — $30,000 the first year.
It is expected that teachers will be paid a stipend to participate.
Headwaters already has a close association with the schools in the county through the Starfish mentoring program, the Next Step program that helps students with the college application process and the Farm-to-Table program that promotes an understanding of agriculture and gardening through study and hands-on experience.
The program fits in with the desire of working parents “for a safe, productive environment for their children so they can learn new things and get help with their homework,” explained Toni Egger, executive director of Headwaters, during a phone interview.
She said that Philip Strange, a former Headwaters board member, became aware of a similar program in Madison County and thought something like it could be done in Rappahannock.
“The program [in Madison County] has grown tremendously. They started with 40 to 60 students and now have over 300,” Egger said. “It’s every day after school and during the summer. It’s more ambitious than what we have in mind.”
The Boys and Girls Club based in Charlottesville put together the program in Madison.
“To get their help with training was prohibitively expensive” for Rappahannock schools to partner with them, she said.
Egger said she sees the program primarily being funded by Headwaters, grants and program fees to be charged — initially proposed to be $45 per child per semester (half the school year), with same-family discounts and financial aid possible.
The $30,000 in support asked of the county would decrease to $20,000 during the program’s second year and $10,000 the third. County funding would end after the third year, she said.
Before undertaking the initiative, Headwaters sought to gauge interest in it.
“We thought this was a great idea but we wondered did the parents and students think it was a great idea,” Egger said.
She said that Strange went to both of the “Meet the Teachers” nights at the county’s two schools in August to survey students and parents.
“We were stunned by the results,” Egger said. “Two hundred and eleven elementary school students said they wanted to participate and equally impressive was the number of high school students willing to train as mentors.”
Headwaters seeks “to support, not supplant” the school system by “seeding programs the schools think can help them.” The schools take on a bigger role as the programs evolve, Egger explained. The Next Step program has become a 50-50 partnership with the schools and the Farm-to-Table program is moving in that direction, she said.
The 4-H program will help train mentors and it already has “built-in programs” that can be put into place in an organized after-school setting.
Jenny Kapsa is the local 4-H coordinator and sits on the advisory board of the after-school program.
“My hope is that I can be a part of training the volunteers,” she said. “It will be run like the 4-H camp with teens as junior mentors and assisting with the workshops.
The teens would “help run the show” with other volunteers and teachers.
“I’m really excited about it,” Kapsa said of the after-school program. “I hope people will see 4-H as more than owning a goat.”
Egger said she thinks the program will be limited to 60 students initially and offered two days a week — probably Tuesday and Thursday.
Parents of more than one child in the program will get a discount on the fee to be charged. There will be scholarships available for those who can’t pay at all.
“We want to make sure the program gets to the kids who most need it without regard to cost or transportation issues,” Egger said.
“We thought it was important for the parents to pay something so that they would see the program as having value. It also signifies a commitment,” Egger said.
The fee will also help to offset the cost of the program.
The after-school program is “the most expansive program Headwaters has taken on and [would have] the most students,” Egger said.
Headwaters will be looking into the possibility of securing grants or corporate funding, she said, to keep the program going.