Many parents pulled their children from out-of-school time programs during the last school year as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. School districts now are regrouping and rethinking their before care and after school programs this year.
At the recent Business of Child Care Conference hosted by Procare Solutions, two leaders of OST programs in Denver-area districts answered questions about how they’re tackling some of the biggest challenges facing before care and after school programs.
Let’s take a look at what Sarah Conley, director of extended child services for the Cherry Creek School District, and Michelle Minkler, who runs the OST programs in the Littleton School District, had to say in response to three key questions on the minds of educators around the country.
With companies continuing to offer flexibility in allowing employees to work from home, how are you navigating this school year? Are you working to put systems in place to accommodate more flexible schedules for before and after care?
Littleton and Cherry Creek districts both use the parent-managed calendar available through SchoolCare Works, a Procare software product.
The calendar allows parents to choose the days they want to send their kids to out-of-school time programs.
Michelle said before care and after care programs begin at 6:30 a.m. and end at 6 p.m. to help families. Parents can schedule care the night before they need it so they’re not paying for a week of care if they only need a couple days.
“I feel like we’re incredibly flexible in that way,” she said, saying parents can send their kids on the days they choose. “The parents absolutely love it.”
Emergency contacts as well as information about doctors and allergies is available in the software.
Sarah echoed those sentiments, saying Cherry Creek offers the same option to sign up for care just a day before it’s needed.
“I think that keeps our families happy and coming back,” she said. The district also offers families a discount if they register by the 25th of the month before the coming month they want care.
Sometimes staff members get nervous when they could see an unexpected jump in students, but Michelle and Sarah said that hasn’t been a problem because staff-to-student ratios never will be exceeded thanks to the SchoolCare Works software.
Click here to learn more about Procare’s online registration tools for child care providers.
Collecting tuition and program payments can be a big issue. How are you ensuring you get paid on time and in a way that works best for parents?
SchoolCare Works has been tremendously helpful in creating a path for fewer past-due accounts, Sarah said.
Field trips are built into the software, so parents can pay any fees associated with them. Sarah described the process as being similar to how you check out and pay on Amazon.
“We don’t have the issue of collecting tuition anymore,” Michelle said. Her programs don’t accept cash or checks anymore, and all payments must be made online.
Both districts raised their rates for their before care and after care programs. Michelle said older children hadn’t returned to programs because parents had found other ways to care for their kids before and after school, or perhaps are letting them stay home alone.
The rate increase was necessary to stay functioning and pay staff, she said. The district is a non-profit, but must ensure the programs don’t lose money.
The good news is that new families are enrolling, she said, including those in the kindergarten and first grades.
Such families often are coming out of paying for daycare or other preschools that can be more than $1,000 a month, so they’re not upset about the much-lower cost of after care, Michelle said.
Sarah said the same thing is happening in her district, particularly the spike in new families coming to the programs.
“Last summer looked a lot different than this summer,” Sarah said.
Her district’s summer camp programs were bursting at the seams with enrollment, which she said was a great problem to have.
Precautions including health screenings remained in place to help keep campers safe, she said.
But some normalcy returned, including outdoor field trips, which felt good.
How are you finding staff?
Michelle and Sarah said the staffing issue is one of the most frustrating and tense moments for a program manager coming into the school year and not knowing if they can find staff for the care that parents need.
“We need to be able to take the people coming in,” Sarah said.
Tips they offered to attract applicants included raising the hourly pay for staffing the programs, advertising in high schools and colleges, targeting stay-at-home moms and offering their kids free care while they work, as well as partnering with principals to boost part-time employees to full-time by working before and after school and using Facebook.
“It’s really hard to find activity leaders,” Michelle said. Such leaders must have a certain amount of experience with kids and be older than 18. Many people think they have the needed child care experience, but don’t qualify. So they can work as aides.
How Procare Can Help With OST Programs!
Software offered by Procare allows districts to accurately and easily track attendance and children’s activities, keep families up to date by systematizing communications like their children’s schedules, key events and important forms as well as automatically bill your families to ensure on-time payments.
As you map out what went well and what you’d like to change think about the role software could play in simplifying planning and other administrative duties — both for you and your families.
Parents increasingly are seeking technology to help coordinate busy schedules. That’s especially true for millennials, who are the majority of today’s parents.
Parent engagement is critical to attracting families to your program. How is your program doing when it comes to keeping parents informed, engaged and connected? Take Procare’s free Parent Engagement quiz to help you answer those questions!
Now is a good time to assess how software could help if you’re still relying on clunky methods such as spreadsheets, stacks of handwritten forms that you must enter into your system or paper sign-in and sign-out sheets.