WENATCHEE — Parents shopping for before- and after-school child care in Wenatchee this fall will have more to choose from if they do that shopping at the school district.
In response to a survey taken by parents of elementary school students last spring, the Wenatchee School District licensed its existing program with the state for the first time and will offer enrichment activities, extended day learning options, time for homework and play and for community service as well.
The district also decided it was time for someone to coordinate the programs, which each school had run separately in the past with principals as overseers.
The changes come at a price. Parents used to pay $1.50 to $1.75 an hour. Now, child care costs will average out to about $2.16 an hour. Parents will pay fees monthly and in advance.
The program is flexible and parents can sign up for child care that suits their schedules. Students may be enrolled in the program before school only, after school only or both, from one to five days a week. Drop-in care will be available, but must be arranged in advance. All-day kindergarten care will be held at Washington and Lincoln schools. It may be offered at other schools if there is enough interest.
Eva Freimuth, one of the coordinators of the new program, said she hasn’t had many complaints about the price increase because of the improvements.
“Parents have been really excited about the changes in the program,” Freimuth said.
More than 100 families attended a registration session late in July.
Freimuth is sharing the job of directing the program with Keesha Knutson , who worked in the child care program at Washington Elementary for three years. Both have degrees in early childhood education and many years of experience in child care. Sharing the job means they can continue to spend time with their own young children.
Although the school district has offered before- and after-school programs for at least 10 years, this will be the first time the district has been licensed by the Washington State Office of Child Care Policy, which regulates private day care and preschool operations as well.
The license means the program can now accept children who get day care vouchers from the Department of Social and Health Services and be eligible for state and federal grants.
To be licensed, the school district had to lower the ratio of children to adults to 15 to 1. In the past, the official ratio was 20 to 1, but sometimes exceeded that.
The school district must also provide staff with safety training and training in child development.
Each site will be open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and will be managed by a certified teacher’s aide.
Knutson and Freimuth will oversee the child care programs at Lewis and Clark, Lincoln, Mission View, Newbery, Sunnyslope and Washington schools. The YMCA will continue to operate the after-school program at Columbia, at least for this year. Columbia offers before-school care only on Monday mornings.
This will be the first time Mission View families will be able to access child care. At this point, Freimuth said, it’s not clear if the program will be held at Mission View or at another school.
Children will have time to do homework or work on special projects. In addition, Knutson said, groups like Camp Fire, Wenatchee School of Karate and Rebounders will offer programs at discounted rates.
The students in the program at each elementary school also will pick a community service project and work on it all year.
“We’re really trying to bridge the gap between the school and the community and this is one way to do it,” Freimuth said.
Freimuth said she is looking for volunteers to help with projects, and also to help tutor kids who need extra help.
District officials are looking at the child care program as another chance to catch kids up to grade level when they fall behind.
“We are going to integrate our child care program with our academic programs,” said Jeanine Butler, the district’s executive director of learning and teaching. “Kids who look in danger of not making grade level can access help before and after school.”
Americorps members will help tutor children, and Butler said a cross-age tutor program is being set up with the high school.
The school district also offers programs financed by state and federal dollars for preschool students who have developmental delays or who come from low-income families. Those programs also will see a change this year, but only in location.
Pacific Aerospace & Electronics is giving the school district free use of the child care center at the former JanSport location in Olds Station for one year. PAE began leasing the site from the Chelan County Port District early this year. The day care center is in a separate building.
The district is moving its specials needs preschool and Early Childhood Educational Assistance Program (ECEAP) classrooms to the building. ECEAP is a preschool program for 4-year-olds from low income homes.
The school district is still accepting registration for its child care programs. Call 663-8161 for information.