Some programs ended because of low attendance
By ANDREA CASTILLO
Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series examining the effects of Peach County’s transition to a four-day school week.
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For several community groups and churches in Fort Valley and Byron, good intentions were not enough to sustain Monday programs that emerged in answer to Peach County’s four-day school week.
In late July, just weeks before the school year was set to begin, the Peach County Board of Education announced that classes would meet Tuesday through Friday to save about $400,000 in transportation and operational costs.
Several community groups and churches throughout the county responded, offering Monday programs for students. But they shut down almost as quickly as they appeared because student attendance was not high enough to offset the cost.
Earlier in the school year, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Georgia Heartlands offered a Monday program. For $10 a day, parents could leave their children at locations in Fort Valley and Byron for homework help and other activities, Chief Professional Officer Karen Howell said.
However, the Boys & Girls Club was able to offer the Monday program for only a month because it never had the enrollment of at least 25 students at each Peach County location to cover expenses. Howell attributes that to several factors, including transportation issues with students who otherwise may have participated.
“With such short notice everyone was given — parents, clubs, day care — it was harder for us and parents to make arrangements for it,” Howell said.
Next year, the group plans to better plan and publicize a Monday program by telling parents of children in summer programs about options available during the school year. As a result, Howell hopes to see more children at the Boys & Girls Club in the fall.
While efforts to have a Monday program at the Boys & Girls Club this year were unsuccessful, a Monday tutoring program at Byron Baptist Church for elementary and middle school students has seen steady attendance throughout the fall semester.
About 30 students regularly attend the program for $15 a day from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., said Thad Parker, student pastor at the church, who runs the program. About twice that many students are registered with the program.
“One goal was to make it more affordable than established day cares,” Parker said.
Local teachers help staff the Monday tutoring program and assist students with schoolwork. Parents also can use the church’s existing day-care program beyond those hours. On Mondays, students have the option of participating in a community children’s choir from 3 to 4 p.m.
Parker said the church’s pastor, Jesse Fortson, has made contact with Superintendent Susan Clark, as well as several teachers and principals in Peach County, to begin developing a relationship that would allow the groups to coordinate assignments and resources, particularly for high-needs or at-risk students in the program.
“It’s not just day care, so they can actually see a positive impact in their academic as well as spiritual well-being,” Parker said.
Another church, Byron United Methodist, decided to offer a Monday care option to parents, charging $20 a day for the program. Doing so was relatively easy because the church already offers a summer day camp, Camp Vinson Valley, said Andy Moore, the camp’s director,
The new school year began on the heels of Camp Vinson Valley, so the church still had space, supplies and staff available. Even though the church was prepared to offer the program, only 12 students attended the first day. Moore said the church needed 30 to 35 participants to keep going, and the program closed down after the first Monday it opened.
“We weren’t sure of the number that we would have every week,” Moore said. “It didn’t seem like there was enough interest in the program.”
Moore figured parents chose less costly options, such as leaving children with family members.
“Parents probably feel they shouldn’t have been paying for another day of day care when they should have been in school,” he said. “They made arrangements for other things.”
While many of the options disappeared as quickly as they emerged, Moore said it was great that so many groups showed the initiative to provide options for students and parents.
“It was pretty remarkable all the groups that were able to put programs together so quickly,” Moore said. “It was really good to be able to do that. It obviously shows the Board of Education that groups are looking after the kids.”
Some parents in Peach County, such as Chad Heath, have not had to rely on outside Monday care options.
Because Heath works from home, he is able to look after one of his daughters, a sixth-grader at Byron Middle School. His 4-year-old daughter attends a Head Start program during the week, including Monday.
“It really hasn’t been much of a burden on us. I can imagine it being difficult for some parents,” he said.
A number of people Heath knows also rely on family members to look after children. Others have continued existing day care arrangements.
While Heath is able to watch his daughter on Mondays, it hasn’t always been easy.
“It’s great to have her home on Monday. I’m in a position for her to be here, but I would rather her be in school,” Heath said. “Twelve-year-olds are 12-year-olds, especially when you mix a 12-year-old with a 4-year-old. It gets kind of hectic.”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.