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Afterschool Issues Concerns Voiced Regarding Program Availability
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Program Grant Manager Araseli Zamora, at right, gave the Riverbank Unified School District Board and guests a complete report on Project A.C.T.I.O.N., the afterschool program, at a recent board meeting. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS

Riverbank Unified School District has an afterschool program that is funded by the ASES (After School Education and Safety) grant, a program that has been in existence here since 2010. This allows the District to offer an afterschool program to students at Riverbank Language Academy (RLA), Mesa Verde Elementary, California Avenue Elementary, and Cardozo Middle School. There are seven afterschool program leaders at California Avenue with one advisor, three leaders at Cardozo, six leaders and one advisor at Mesa, and seven leaders with one advisor at RLA.

With a limited amount of space available at each school site this has caused a challenge for families that would like to participate in it. There were a few parents from RLA that have been in discussions with RUSD Board members and RUSD Superintendent Dr. Daryl Camp in regards to coming up with a solution for those students that are on the waiting list to get into the program, like creating a new fee based program similar to the one that they have for the kindergarteners.

At a school board meeting earlier this month RUSD Program Grant Manager. Araseli Zamora presented a Project ACTION report about operation details, components, enrollment, waitlist, research, demographics comparisons, and capacity increase considerations. There were also a few parents from RLA that shared their concerns during public comments.

Parent Jose Quiroz has two kids in the afterschool program at RLA and would like to see the program accommodate all the students even if they have to add a fee based program to do so. The program is currently free. There is a lottery system to get in so not all children are able to take advantage of the program.

“We are just looking for a safe place for our kids to be,” said Quiroz. “So we can drop them off at school and pick them up at school. That is the ultimate goal … getting services at our school that other districts are doing. Some parents said that they are going to have to leave the school because of the services that you can get in the next district over like Oakdale Unified or Sylvan Unified.”

Riverbank Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Daryl Camp noted that the free program cannot accommodate all the students that want to participate, as there just isn’t enough money.

“The fund amount is pretty stagnant,” stated Camp. “Essentially the costs are going up and the revenues are staying the same. It does not fund the whole program.”

Parents like Quiroz offered some possible solutions but are frustrated that there hasn’t been much progress.

“An example is Oakdale Joint Unified School District,” said Quiroz. “They have an ASES grant and anybody else that wants to get into the program, they do a fee based for those that don’t get into the free one and I presented it to Dr. Camp. A whole breakdown of how they do it and they actually did a sliding scale for those that could not afford $95 they dropped it down to $65 and it was just a great example and I gave him the name of the project manager over there and she said that she would be willing to speak to the project manager here but it just fell on deaf ears.”

During the report provided to the school board by Zamora, she noted that the total number of students served at the four school sites is 448 including the kindergarten fee-based students and the total number of lottery applicants at all the sites is 628. At the end of September, there were 192 total applicants on the waitlist at all the school sites.

Another concerned parent Pedro Magana voiced his thoughts during public comments at the board meeting.

“I think the biggest issue is not having availability,” stated Magana. “The options for the parents that are wanting to pay for a seat. A lot of parents are saying if the program is available to us we will pay for it because they need it.”

Magana added that the end goal would be for the district to open more slots for students and if there was a fee based program he would move over to that which would open up a free space for another family. He has three kids currently in the program and with the lottery system is unsure that this will be the case next year.

“In one sense it is great that families want to have students, their sons and daughters with us beyond the school day,” expressed Camp. “There is an extreme confidence in the school system because as you know there are plenty of opportunities for parents to send their students, their kids other places beyond the school day. I am pleased that people have confidence in us. That is the good part.”

Previously, families were able to participate on a first come first serve basis enrollment in the afterschool program and this year it was changed to a lottery type system. Dr. Camp explained that after doing some research in other districts a lottery seemed more equitable and that it put parents and families almost on an equal playing field which allowed everyone to take advantage of the afterschool program regardless of the situation.

One parent stated that she had been doing whatever she had to do to get into the program even if it meant standing in line at 5 a.m. and since enrollment was switched to a lottery her daughter did not get in this year.

“I don’t like some of the parents waiting outside whatever time it is,” added Camp. “At other schools you see people out at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and that is not comfortable with me. I am willing to take a second look because one of the things we learned from our research is that there are a lot of school districts that are doing first come first serve.”

“My concern is that over the years we have been serving less and less kids,” stated parent Alejandra Garcia. “We have been having less space in the afterschool program to serve the need in the community and with that my concern is the safety of the kids. They are not part of the afterschool program. All three of them are in different places.”

With hopes that the afterschool program can be expanded or a fee based program created, Garcia explained that it would be more affordable to the community than a private daycare.

“I am actually happy that they voiced it today that they will take the parents voice into consideration,” said Garcia. “I think that’s important. Only I know my need, only the parents know what their needs are so we can’t assume that they know what we need so they need to come to us and ask us and include us in the process so that we can all work together and come up with a solution.”

The district has a fee based program for kindergarten students but Camp explained they are reluctant to expand to another fee based program for several reasons, including the quality of the program, staffing, management of fees, the facility and the families that may be disadvantaged in not being able to afford it.

“This is a year to year issue for parents,” said Magana. “Do I have to maintain daycare on the side just in case I don’t get in next year then I have to jump over to daycare and vice versa so it is just so unpredictable and stressful year to year. That is an issue. We are looking for stability.”

Although the waitlist does show the demand Dr. Camp expressed that there is not enough staff and money to satisfy that demand.

“We will continuously look at how we serve our students,” stated Camp. “From our district standpoint we are not going to expand a fee based program at this time. It is not unusual for parents to have to make arrangements for students beyond the school day I am sure there are a lot parents in that category. I tell people too that nothing prohibits people from starting an afterschool program somewhere. It does not have to be associated with the school district. They can do their own; it is a private marketplace. It is good that people have confidence in us as a school district but the reality is there, we are good at what we do but it does not preclude somebody from starting something different if it serves the community.”

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There are several students that participate in the afterschool program and there is also a waiting list to enroll in the free program that is funded by a grant. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS