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A growing necessity

For the past three years, three public school districts in the region have implemented the Regional After School Program through a Roughrider 21st Century grant.

For the past three years, three public school districts in the region have implemented the Regional After School Program through a Roughrider 21st Century grant.

The grant must now be renewed to continue supporting the program's current status for another five years. The grant is through the Roughrider Education Services Program.

Dickinson Lincoln Elementary School Principal Del Quigley has been directly involved in overseeing the popular program and said it has become a necessity in the community.

"There was such a shortage of childcare services which were moving to only full time (availability)," Quigley said. "They were saying part time wouldn't be provided any longer, which was a driving force that increased our numbers. Also, parents have realized we provide a good program with homework help, tutoring and educational-based activities."

The after school program exists for the five public elementary schools in Dickinson and two regional elementary schools in Hebron and Beach. The program has grown from around 130 students when it first began to more than 300 total today during a three year period.

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The grant provides $250,000 per year for the schools to share for the after school program.

"It is all federal money controlled by the state," Quigley said. "The state Legislature was asked to fund part of the program during the last session, but that bill was defeated."

The other financial assistance used to fund the program is a fee for parents. Quigley said parents are charged about $2 or less an hour depending on how many children they have in the program. For families in need of financial assistance, the program coordinates with Stark County Social Services.

"Without the grant, our fees would be raised to compare with other daycares in town," Quigley said. "There may have to be some adjustment to staffing and activities, but we would certainly continue the homework help. The school board, administrators and parents would have to be involved in deciding exactly which activities would continue and which would not."

The next grant application process began this week with a meeting among administrators and the Roughrider Education Services Program. The next grant cycle is to cover the program for the next five years.

"We wouldn't end the after-school program if we didn't get the grant, but there would be changes," Quigley said. "The parents and businesses in the community wouldn't allow it to end."

Growth of the program

Quigley said the program has grown from being just an after-school childcare program to being seen as an educational enhancement of the school day.

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"It's not just babysitting," Quigley said. "We survey parents and staff in the spring and it's a rare parent who makes any negative comment. I had one parent last spring who asked for more play time for their child."

The goal is to have 60-70 percent of the program geared toward educational activities, he added.

"The state purchased what's called 'GEMS' science and math kits this past fall taken out of state monies and not out of the grant monies," Quigley said. "There are many things included in it such as a bubble project, graphic designs using geometry shapes and a detective kit which has the students solve a 'crime' using science based clues."

The after-school program students are split into two categories, those there for the child-based learning and those who are being tutored. Students can also get homework help.

The tutoring part of the program is free to parents and is offered through the grant. Students who have been identified as not making proficiency for the state assessment or in danger of not making proficiency benefit from the tutoring and homework help.

Finding help

Two full-time employees run the program and their salaries are by the grant.

Trina Kudrna is the project coordinator in charge of billing, purchasing, grant coordinating and writing. She visits two schools in Dickinson and the elementary schools in Beach and Hebron. She works on the educational-based activities for students.

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"I help them set up their program and give them ideas on ways to do the program," Kudrna said. "The only difference between the Dickinson schools and the others is that they combine the kids in the after school portion and with the tutoring part."

Kudrna has a history with the school district, having been a para-professional at Lincoln for the last 13 years. She recently got her degree in elementary education from Dickinson State University.

She has a daughter, Keana, in fourth grade at Roosevelt Elementary School who is in the after-school program there and knows first hand what it provides.

"As a parent having a child in the program, it eliminates the worry of getting them home or to a safe place after school," she said. "Keana is able to do her homework too and that gives her more free time when she comes home. I still will quiz her before a big test or help her, but now we can spend more quality time together."

The program has made things more stress free, while not taking away parent-child time, she added.

Depending on the number of students in the program at each school, there are after school supervisors who are mostly elementary education majors from DSU.

Kudrna and program site director Altaira Jackson must be on-call for the supervisors when they are unable to make it to a shift. Jackson also keeps tabs on the college students.

Jackson has a degree in sociology and human development from Washington State University. She came to Dickinson with her fiancé Jeremy Jackson, who was going to DSU and now works in the area.

"I do the schedules for interns, pre-professionals, method blocks and other college students," Jackson said. "A pre-professional is a sophomore education major who has to do a certain amount of time in a classroom setting, while a method block is a junior in college who has to teach small group lessons. Some do that in regular classrooms while other coordinate through RASP's tutoring program."

Jackson also keeps in touch and talks with professors about how the college student is doing, she added.

"We have an excellent college staff," Kudrna said.

Quigley agreed. He said the children respect and enjoy being with the supervisors.

Also as site director, Jackson helps with the tutoring program. She visits three schools in Dickinson, helping coordinate activities for them and rotation schedules.

"Every week we have at least two activities they do which must relate to math, reading or science," Jackson said. "We make sure the activities are hands on and students are not in the classroom. We combine the younger and older children in both groups."

Certified teachers are hired for the tutoring portion of the program. Most are from within the school district and most of the schools have teachers or para-professionals from their particular school work for the program.

"Jefferson Elementary School didn't have any teachers interested in working with the after-school program there, so then we went to our substitute teacher list," Quigley said. "Each school has at least one certified teacher and Berg has two."

The learning curve

Staffing and scheduling are continual challenges for the program.

"Now that Berg is a sixth-grade-only facility, they have less supervisors for childcare and another teacher to help with the tutoring portion," Quigley said. "We get a large number of para-professionals to help out too."

It gets harder and harder to find employees, he added.

"We like to hire students from DSU who are education majors for supervisor positions because they already have an interest in children," Quigley said. "It's especially hard in the fall of the year with college students not coming on right away. Then during finals and holidays it's hard because we operate five days a week, even when there isn't always school, but we know some college students go home."

The program doesn't operate during holidays such as Christmas or Thanksgiving, but it was open the Friday after Thanksgiving, he added.

"The problem we run into no matter who we hire is scheduling," Quigley said. "We're open until 6:15 p.m., but a lot of children are picked up at about 5 p.m. or so. Then we could have 15-20 students with five supervisors, which is a 1:5 ratio and is not real cost effective, but you can't keep employees or hire them if you're only going to offer them a couple hours to work."

You have to guarantee your employee decent hours to make it worth it, he added.

Other challenges include coordinating activities between the schools such as ensuring the program's snack is provided every day. Hebron and Beach have their own people to do that, Quigley added.

Not only is the program open during the school year, but it also has a summer portion available five days a week running from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The only problem is it doesn't start until the first week after school and ends two weeks before school.

"We need that time to prepare for the summer program when school ends and to prepare for the after-school program when school begins," Jackson said.

It's hard to figure out a better way because the coordinators know it can be hard for parents to have those three weeks without the program, Quigley added.

"We have some solutions in the works for that," he said. "There are some clubs at the high school looking into a fundraising opportunity or other groups through the college looking at it. Nothing has been formalized yet."

With the summer program scheduling, bus transportation to and from the West River Community Center for activities can be a challenge.

"It's nice because some of those children otherwise wouldn't be able to be involved in those activities," Kudrna said.

During the summer, the program also brings students on field trips to places such as Medora, Killdeer and Bismarck.

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