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Elise Foster travels several days a week for her job. Her husband, Chad, works until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
That means there are a lot of times through the week that neither can be home to greet their 5-year-old daughter, Claire, when she steps off the school bus in the afternoons.
The answer for many parents is private day care. The answer for the Fosters is i-CARE, a first-year program of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. that provides before- and after-school day care with an educational twist.
School district officials started the program this school year in all its elementary schools after scrapping a partnership of more than 20 years with Children Inc. to provide day care, said Teresa Heiny, the school district’s superintendent of elementary education.
The change shifted responsibilities to the district’s own staff, integrating with the school system’s existing Beacon program, which provides after-school enrichment and homework help.
Students in i-CARE are exposed to indoor and outdoor activities. Activities can include playing basketball, participating in sack races or sitting in a circle to learn about what it’s like to be hearing impaired, as was the case during fall break.
The resulting formula has seen the enrollment of 850 children, most of them elementary age.
It operates five days a week instead of the previous four and includes summer, fall and spring breaks. It takes days off only for major holidays.
“Parents like the consistency,” said Katie Garrity, director of i-CARE. “We’re able to provide more to our families by putting it all under the same umbrella and hiring our own people.”
Parents also save money.
A 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, which the state used to give the district exclusively for its Beacon program, is now being applied to i-CARE, Heiny said. That helps offset the cost to parents in general. It also makes the program free for 42 percent of the families in Bartholomew County whose incomes qualify their children for free- or reduced-price lunches.
The Fosters, whose child attends Columbus Signature Academy Fodrea Elementary School, pay the full price and only use the after-school program, which is $50 a week.
She said they like having the service available at all times, even when she isn’t traveling, and can pick up her child immediately after school without relying on i-CARE busing.
Spending a couple of hours extra in quality time with her daughter more than makes up for any financial sacrifice by not taking advantage of i-CARE every day of the week.
Elise Foster said she knows the girl is in good hands and seems happy and chatty when she comes home.
The program is taught primarily by adults who have teaching licenses but may not be actual teachers, Heiny said.
Schmitt Elementary School was the only site in the school district that was opened through the two-week fall break, which wraps up Friday. About 27 students from throughout the district attended during that time.
The public school system teamed up with IUPUC for the first week of fall-break programming, which differed from regular programming by not including homework help.
Young adults from the college’s Teaching and Pluralistic Society class lead i-CARE students in various exercises intended to help them experience, understand and empathize with people who have disabilities.
At one station, IUPUC student Angela Mangum had Samuel Hsu, a Parkside Elementary School second-grader, and Skylar Harrison, a Smith Elementary School fourth-grader, push another student in a wheelchair.
The exercise was intended to help students become familiar with people with various abilities.
It was the kind of enrichment instruction that i-CARE considers a cornerstone of its programming for all its students.
Lindsey Thompson, the program site coordinator for Parkside Elementary School and one of the leaders of i-CARE during fall break programming, said she sees students benefit tremendously from i-CARE through their enthusiasm.
“Kids even through the school day ask when i-CARE is going to start,” she said. “It has a little bit of everything.”
Maya Davis, the mother of first-grader Josiah Davis, said she likes the after-care program because it gives her son structured daycare until she is able to pick him up when she leaves work at 5 p.m.
Lucy Hsu, whose son, Samuel, is a second-grader at Parkside, said she uses after-care because it is organized, safe, convenient and less costly than private daycare services.
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