After-school program meets community need

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Thanks to the Eureka Springs Community Center, local students have a place to go when school ends for the day.

The community center’s after-school program has proved to be a hit over the past year, with 75 students enrolled and up to 40 of them present on any given day. Eureka Springs Elementary School teacher Carrie Gay runs the program, which is held at the elementary school building. According to Gay, the program was a hit this year.

“It’s been going great. Our numbers are up. We have fun activities planned, and we’ve done so many fun things already,” Gay said.

These activities include playing outside, working on arts and crafts and using a fun STEM program, Gay said.

“It really helps the kids. They love it. They’re excited to come,” Gay said. “They get angry when their parents come to get them early.”

Second-grader Matthew Reaves said he loves everything about the program.

“It’s fun. We play games outside … sports, Tag, Hide and Seek, sliding down the slide, running away from each other,” Reaves said. “You get to have recess every day.”

For third-grader London Hill, it’s all about computer time. Hill said she loves playing educational games on the computer.

“It’s all pretty fun,” Hill said.

Fifth-grader JD Eckman said he enjoys all aspects of the program.

“I think it’s fun. It’s educational, and it’s good to spend time with friends,” Eckman said.

In addition to these activities, Gay said, the program offers homework help for students who need it.

“If parents work until 5:30 and they have to try to help with homework, that really decreases their family time,” Gay said. “When we can help with homework and tutoring, it kind of helps that family reconnect on a level.”

Every day is an adventure, Gay said.

“We have an average of about 35 kids a day. Some float in,” Gay said. “Some might come three days a week. Some might come two days a week. Then we have those that come five days a week.”

Kathy Remenar, who serves on the community center foundation’s board of directors, said the number of students in attendance depends on the season.

“Once the season of tourism is back in, the parents go back to work,” Remenar said. “Their kids have a place to go.”

Nearly 90 percent of the students enrolled in the program, Gay said, are between kindergarten and fourth grade. Jean Elderwind, the community center foundation’s secretary, said she’s pleased with how many students attend each week.

“I think that is a large number of students enrolled in the program compared to the overall student population,” Elderwind said.

The community center had originally hoped to host the program on-site, Elderwind said, but she’s happy to offer it at the elementary school. She said it was important to the community center foundation to get the after-school program running as soon as possible.

“The community center foundation board recognized there was a need for care for after-school for the younger ones whose parents both work,” Elderwind said. “We decided we would have the community center without walls by bringing the program here.”

When she heard about the program, Gay said, she was one of many teachers who felt relieved.

“It was killing me to put these little kids on a bus, and I knew they were going home to an empty house at 7 years old,” Gay said. “When the community center said, ‘Let us help you,’ a sigh of relief went through the teachers.”

“That’s one of the reasons the community identified after-school care as a priority for the community center,” Remenar said.

Remenar continued, saying she’s excited to work with the school district on the program. The community center funds the program, Remenar said, and the district offers a facility for it.

“This is a very cooperative program. It shows how the community center can cooperate with others,” Remenar said. “To do this at the community center … it would have been impossible, but being able to partner with the school has made this very thing happen.”

The response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive, Gay said. She reported hearing from one parent who can go back to work because of the program.

“Now she has childcare,” Gay said.

The program has certainly met an important need, Gay said.

“There is no other option. There’s very few babysitters for kids to go to. There’s no other programs,” Gay said. “There’s really no public transportation system for the kids to get somewhere else. It’s ride the bus home or have someone pick you up.”

Gay described how it feels to work with the community center, saying she’s pleased with the arrangement.

“They have been amazing. If I call them and say, ‘Oh my gosh, we really need this,’ they find a way to get it to us,” Gay said. “We were tied in knots having to send these kids home by themselves. With the community center stepping up … it really helped.”

The program isn’t just open to students enrolled in the Eureka Springs School District. Elderwind said students at Clear Spring School, the Academy of Excellence and those who are home-schooled are welcome to attend.

“There is a small fee on a daily basis, but we also have built in scholarships,” Elderwind said. “We try to make it work for everyone.”

Gay agreed.

“We don’t want any child to be left out,” she said.

For more information on the program, call 479-244-9313.

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