Every day after school, hundreds of Franklin students find themselves in a scheduling limbo.
School has let out, but their parents aren’t home from work yet. The children are too young to care for themselves and otherwise wouldn’t have anyplace to go.
So in each elementary school, a unique type of after-school sanctuary takes shape.
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For the past 25 years, Franklin schools have been providing inexpensive child care before and after school through its Alternative Care Experience program. Using a mix of structured homework time, an after-school snack and freedom to play, it focuses on providing intellectual and physical development experiences, particularly for low-income families.
The program was innovative when it was founded and continues to provide an ideal solution for families struggling with child care costs.
“This was unique because community people and parents of children were the ones who put it together,” said Carol Poe, executive director of Alternative Care Experience. “They did what they thought would be best for the kids, and it’s worked out beautifully.”
The program was formed in 1989 to address a lack of child care options for working parents. The cause was gaining statewide attention, as Indiana legislators mandated that schools offered some kind of after-school program for young children whose parents would not yet be home from their jobs when school let out.
Some schools contract with the YMCA and other area agencies, which provide personnel to the schools to run the programs.
But Franklin wanted to try to come up with a fix of its own.
“The idea was that there was no affordable after-school care in the area for parents,” Poe said. “At the time, there was only one very small day care center in the city.”
A committee of school administrators and teachers joined together with concerned residents to figure out the best possible operation they could create.
The first priority was to make the child care affordable, said Ellen Paris, counselor at Northwood Elementary School and one of the founders of Alternative Care Experience.
“There wasn’t much affordable day care available at that time for children with working moms, especially single moms,” she said. “We didn’t’ want kids out running the streets; we wanted them to have some supervision and some activities for them.”
The program started at
Northwood. It then quickly expanded to the other four schools in the district.
A United Way grant helped support the hiring of a director, as well as site leaders, at each individual school. Children don’t have to take a bus to a central location; each Franklin elementary has an Alternative Care Experience site set up in the cafeteria.
Trained site leaders, assistants and child-care workers are ready to provide a mix of structured activities and free play.
The children are provided a snack, from fruits and veggies to pizza. They complete their homework, with assistants helping if a child needs it.
Then the kids get to run around in the gym, go outside on the playground, play board games or read books.
“I love to see safe, free play. Seeing the kids out playing, just having fun together on the playground, goofing around, is great,” Paris said. “Kids don’t get to have that a lot anymore.”
The key to Alternative Care Experience is to keep costs down.
Each day of care costs $8 per child, a significant savings over the average cost of $15 per day for child care in Indiana, according to Child Care Aware of America.
Reduced rates are available for parents who can prove they’re in need, that their adjusted gross income is below $25,000 and they cannot afford the full price.
The program is operated using Johnson County Community Foundation grants, as well donations from area businesses and individuals. A flower sale in the spring and fall also helps raise money.
Other than that, the fees that parents pay for their children to attend keeps it afloat, Poe said.
Funding remains a constant challenge, Poe said. In lean years, she has had to cut program employees rather than raise rates for parents. Programs at Needham and Webb schools had to be consolidated for a year to try and save costs.
“The most important thing is keeping it affordable, so we have to make adjustments wherever we can,” Poe said.
Alternative Care Experience cares for between 150 and 200 students each day. The most popular is at Creekside Elementary School, which averages 55 children per day.
Parents can sign their children up all year long, and the program is never full; if need be, organizers will simply hire more child-care workers, Poe said.
“We suggest to some parents, even if you don’t think you’ll need the program, sign your child up. If something comes up and they need to stay, they can stay,” she said.
Over the years, the program has spawned a kind of family. Kids who attended Alternative Care Experience have offered to come back and been trained as child-care assistants at the sites.
Students who started in the program now have their own children attending it, Poe said.
“In some cases, I think we gave a stable environment to children who didn’t have that at home,” she said. “Hopefully, it helped them have a safe place where they could go and make their life better.”
Alternative Care Experience
What: A child-care program designed for Franklin elementary students
When: Each school day from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. (Northwood Elementary School only); 2:20 to 6 p.m.
Where: Each Franklin elementary school
Who can attend: Any student of Franklin Community School Corp. in kindergarten through fourth grade
- Registration fee is $20 per family with a $40 prepayment for each child.
- Daily cost to attend is $8 per child for after-school care, $4 for before-school care.
How to sign up:
Registration is open throughout the entire school year.
All of the forms can be downloaded online at franklinschoolschildcare.org.
Before a child is able to enter the program, their parents have fill out paperwork providing medical background, allergies and contact information for the parents, which are also available online.