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November 11, 2009
Fifth-grade teacher Debbie Steen helps first-grader Jake Kelley during a cooking class at Peters Elementary School in the Union district. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
by: CLIFTON ADCOCK & SARA PLUMMER Tulsa World Staff Writers
(Reprinted with Permission. This is not an endorsement.)
It was messy, it was muddy, and it was good.
Several students at Union Public Schools' Peters Elementary School measured and mixed in the library Wednesday as part of an after-school cooking class.
Lesson one was making edible mud — a mixture of chocolate pudding mix, milk, Cool Whip and crushed Oreos with gummy worms as a garnish. In the next three weeks, the class will make smoothies, quesadillas and a holiday snack.
The cooking lesson is one of several enrichment classes offered in the extended-day program at some of Union's elementary schools, said Lorrie Fields, the program's coordinator.
Thousands of school-age children in area districts participate in such programs, and the percentage of students who attend before- or after-care has doubled since 2004, according to a survey conducted by the organization America After 3 P.M.
But with waiting lists at some locations, there is more demand than schools can accommodate.
"Once all of those spots are filled, that's it," said Cindy Williamson, director of community services for Broken Arrow Public Schools. "We get people standing in line at 5 o'clock in the morning to get that coveted spot."
Sonia Johnson, director of the Oklahoma Afterschool Network, said Oklahoma is one of 14 states that does not budget for out-of-school care even though 41 percent of parents in the state say they want it.
Before- and after-care programs are usually paid for by the parent. Costs can range from $80 a month for before-care at Union to $260 for some after-school care in Tulsa Public Schools.
The money is used to pay employees and to cover utility and equipment costs, said Debbie Sekel, the Tulsa district's before- and after-care coordinator. The programs' staff members need to be licensed by the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Johnson said the cost can keep out many of the kids who need the program most. Also, many schools don't have programs or DHS has had to limit the number of students who can participate because of child-to-care provider ratios, she said.
"Really, the three key issues are the affordability of those programs, the accessibility of those programs — parents are working at 2 and 3 o'clock in the afternoon and we have to have the programs where the kids can get to them — and the third is quality," Johnson said. "We have to have good quality programs for these kids."
Many parents just don't think officials are doing enough to support the programs, she said.
"Our school buildings are sitting there empty at 3 o'clock," she said. "Why are we not making those the hub of our communities? We have computer labs and libraries and phys-ed facilities, and we have the facilities in our communities. How can we better partner to make sure our kids have access to those?"
Before- or after-care for elementary school students — as well as middle and high school students — can provide opportunities ranging from catching up on homework to career exploration, Johnson said.
"This relates back to our dropout prevention rates," she said. "This is not just to support working families, it's also a health and safety issue for our state. If we have these kids involved in programs, they're not involved in other things in our community."
Debbie Steen, who teaches the cooking class at Peters, said working parents like having options.
"They want their child in a safe atmosphere. They're learning something like cooking or drama. It keeps them active and engaged," she said. "They're not just sitting watching television."
First-grader Aubrey Stanley (right) gets help from media specialist Kay Leslie during a cooking class at Union Public Schools' Peters Elementary School. The class is just one offered in Union's after-care program. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
Where programs are offered
Before- and after-care enrollment at area schools and the number of sites in each district providing care:
Third-grader Kenzie Starr measures ingredients during a cooking class at Peters Elementary School. The class is one option in Union's after-care program. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World