About 30 percent of Indiana children — including kindergartners — are left unsupervised in the afternoon, according to the Afterschool Alliance.
But with the help of a recent grant from the state Department of Education, educators in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. are hoping to change that percentage locally and offer enrichment at the same time.
After-school programs at three Columbus schools will receive an extra $165,000 annually, which will free up more money to offer local scholarships.
The 21st Century Community Learning Center Program Grant will go toward operating costs for the after-school programs at W.D. Richards Elementary School, Central Middle School and Northside Middle School.
BCSC is one of 53 organizations to receive a grant, which ranged in value from $50,000 to $300,000 for a statewide total of $11.1 million.
Indiana law requires school corporations to operate an after-school program or form a partnership with a local nonprofit to provide such care.
For many decades, BCSC offered the after-school care through a partnership with Children Inc.
In addition, the district offered homework help and enrichment through an after-school program called Beacon.
The partnership with Children Inc. was scrapped in 2012 and the programs were consolidated into i-CARE, a combination of care and education, for grades K-6. The program still exists as Beacon at Central and Northside middle schools.
The $165,000 grant is the third of its kind for BCSC since 2008.
Beacon programs at Clifty Creek, Columbus Signature Academy Fodrea Campus, Columbus Signature Academy Lincoln Campus, Smith, Schmitt, Mt. Healthy, Taylorsville and Southside received about $450,000 a year through 2013.
Some of that grant money was renewed last year when the district was given $300,000 annually for four years toward the i-CARE programs which qualified as 21st Century Community Learning Centers Programs.
That covers all the elementary schools except Parkside, Rockcreek and Southside, which have less than 40 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches.
The program’s goal is to provide at-risk students a safe environment and academic enrichment during non-school hours.
i-CARE Director Kate Garrity said some families do not take advantage of the after-school program because they think their children are old enough to go home alone.
“Unfortunately, there are so many kids that go home to empty houses,” she said. “Parents might not understand the benefits of extra learning.”
Bryce Harris is one parent who refuses to let his daughter, Alaina, go home to an empty house.
“But I know how to work the TV,” Alaina, a second-grader, told her dad.
That’s not a good enough reason, her father replied.
“That’s the least of her worries if she’s home alone,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t trust her; I don’t trust others.”
Although Alaina’s primarily enrolled because of the care aspect, Bryce has noticed some academic benefits.
“She has her homework done,” he said. “They make sure they get it done, so that means more family time.”
At i-CARE sites, that extra learning includes homework help and tutoring as well as music, sports and cultural activities. Garrity said the enrichment focuses on science, technology, engineering and math.
Students created pendulum painters in a recent activity, where they hung a water bottle from a tripod structure and let the paint fall onto a canvas.
The benefits of such enrichment activities are clear, Garrity said.
She said out of about 800 students enrolled last year, 193 increased their grade in math by three percentage points and 201 scored higher in language arts.
Angie Sherfick’s son, Joshua, attends the after-school program at Richards Elementary for math enrichment through the Minds on Math initiative.
Before he started attending the program, he was answering 50 percent or less of multiplication problems correctly during timed tests.
“I got a 99 today,” the fourth-grader said Thursday, beaming.
Sherfick said the program has really boosted his confidence. It’s also helpful
that i-CARE is staffed by certified educators, she said.
Sometimes cost is a barrier to after-school care, Director of Elementary Education Teresa Heiny said.
Full-price for after-school care is currently $50 per week, with discounts being offered to families qualifying for free or reduced lunch. Before-school care is also offered at an additional cost.
Parents might not feel comfortable leaving their children at home alone — until it’s a matter of doing just that or missing a mortgage payment.
But the recent grants make it possible for the district to offer scholarships to all families who qualify for free or reduced lunch. The middle school programs are offered free of charge for all students, regardless of family income.
If the funding from the 21st Century Community Learning Center program were halted completely, i-CARE would likely return to a fee-based child care program.
“This helps us bridge that gap,” Heiny said.