Roaring Fork Schools’ Wednesday enrichments future uncertain | PostIndependent.com

Roaring Fork Schools’ Wednesday enrichments future uncertain

Sopris Elementary School teacher Sarah Cova helps students on the bus during the 2 p.m. early release time on Wednesday. The other option for students is to stay at school for a variety of enrichment classes until the normal release time.

As Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt schools enter the third year of early-release Wednesdays, there is some question around the future of afternoon enrichment programs that have helped support families by keeping kids busy after regular classes let out.

"Enrichment Wednesdays" came about two years ago when the Roaring Fork School District moved its dedicated, weekly professional development time for teachers from Monday mornings to Wednesday afternoons.

The district remains committed to providing that time for teacher development, which RFSD Superintendent Rob Stein said is far more effective than the former morning period to start the week that was in place previously.

"That professional development time is highly valuable, and we do continue to get strong, positive feedback from our teachers that this time is important," Stein said. "It is core to our mission that we will have a highly qualified teacher in every classroom."

Recognizing that the early Wednesday release time between 1:30 and 2 p.m. would be difficult for families, especially those with younger children, the district teamed with the Aspen Community Foundation's Cradle to Career Initiative to provide a variety of enrichment classes and activities during that lag time.

A wide variety of class offerings has centered around arts and crafts, dance, music, science, yoga and other physical activities for elementary and middle school students. In addition, homework assistance and tutoring has been offered during that time for middle and high school students who need it.

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Due to funding cuts, however, fees have increased this year, and the class offerings have been scaled back, with more focus on elementary schools while still offering homework help and tutoring for the older students.

Instead of an across-the-board $10 fee for each nine-week session throughout the school year, only families who qualify for free and reduced lunch will pay that rate. Others are now being asked to pay $90 per session.

"We still feel that is a reasonable fee for what we are able to offer," Angie Davlyn, senior project coordinator for the district, said. "Our primary focus has shifted to the elementary schools, partly because we looked at who was using the programs, and that's where the most participation was."

This year, the ACF agreed to another $100,000 to support the Enrichment Wednesday programs, down from $300,000 in each of the first two years. Fees and a $37,000 subsidy from the school district account for the rest of the budget, Davlyn explained.

However, unless another funding source or more community partners are identified this coming year, the Wednesday afternoon offerings may not continue in the future, Stein forewarned.

An 'investment'

John Bennett, who directs the Cradle to Career program, noted that the ACF initiative has four primary goals: improving readiness for kindergarten, developing life skills at an early age, increasing academic success throughout primary and secondary school, and making sure high school graduates are college and career ready.

Based on evidence from area educators that one of the best interventions to improve academic success is to increase the quality of teacher training and professional development, Bennett said the ACF agreed to "invest" in Enrichment Wednesdays to help support that dedicated training time for RFSD teachers.

"There was some pushback from parents," Bennett said. "So the challenge was to find a way to free up teachers, but to placate parents by providing something to do for the kids during that time."

But the funding came with the caveat that it would be reviewed annually, and that it wasn't permanent, he said.

"We do refer to it as investing, rather than grant-making, for these types of efforts," Bennett said, adding that donors want to know that they are getting a good return on that investment.

While there is strong evidence that the professional development time is valuable and making a difference in student achievement, the actual enrichment offerings are harder to quantify, he explained.

"Everybody likes the idea, but it's difficult to measure those outcomes when the programs being offered are so diverse," he said.

More recently, Cradle to Career has also decided to shift more of its focus toward post-high school success by helping to fund dedicated college and career counselors in area high schools including those in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

seeking solutions

Stein agreed there has been some frustration about the variety, quality and consistency of the Wednesday programs. There's also a general lack of extended-day programs in the area to pick up the slack, he said.

"It's hard to find enrichment activities for kids, and it's especially hard to find affordable or free ones," Stein said.

At the same time, he said the district wants to know that kids are going to be safe and cared for after school, so it will continue to work on finding solutions for early-release Wednesdays.

Davlyn said one way that discussion will occur will be with the planned hiring of a community liaison who will host community meetings during the school year to discuss the Wednesday situation and other issues.

"We do want to engage people in this discussion, and plan ahead now for how we are going to handle this next year," she said.

Joel Hathaway, who is principal at Glenwood Springs Middle School, said there haven't been any complaints from parents so far during the young school year about the reduction in Wednesday programs at the middle school.

"Given the situation that the district faced with funding, they had to make some tough decisions, but I think they were decisions that are best by the schools and for families," Hathaway said of the emphasis on programs for elementary students with the limited funding.

"There is less variety in what we are offering here, but we are trying to offer something," he said.

The middle schools are better able to fill the gaps with academic support for students during that afternoon time, and there are also sports programs and other sanctioned activities that the older students can become involved with, he said.

"I do feel like this community tends to step up and help with these things," Hathaway said. "There are a lot of nonprofits and other organizations that want to help."

One organization that's not in a position to expand its offerings at this time is Access After School, said Deb Rice, the executive director of that program.

Access provides a variety of enrichment classes and sports and leisure programs for middle school-aged students from Basalt to Rifle for six weeks at a time in the late fall and early spring during the "latch-key" period, between the time school normally lets out and when parents typically get home from work.

Rice explained that the Access model relies on teachers to be available to coordinate activities and in many cases actually teach classes that match their own passions outside of academics.

"We strive to have 50 percent of our classes taught by teachers who are already in the schools," she said.

But during the early-release Wednesday time in RFSD schools, teachers are busy with their professional development, Rice noted.

For now, Access also doesn't have the administrative capacity or the funding to tackle the Wednesday programs, she said.

Meanwhile, for this year, RFSD is still able to offer second bus routes for students taking Enrichment Wednesday classes, according to an explanation posted on the district website.

Any families in need of weekly child care instead of enrichment classes are also encouraged to contact the after school child care providers at each of the elementary schools for details.

Enrichment class instructors INVITED

Those interested in offering a Wednesday afternoon enrichment class during the 2016-17 school year at any Roaring Fork School District elementary school can obtain proposal forms and applications from the Enrichment Wednesdays site coordinator at each school, or follow the links below:

Basalt Elementary School

Crystal River Elementary, Carbondale

Glenwood Springs Elementary School

Sopris Elementary School, Glenwood Springs

Source: Roaring School District website

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