A popular before-school child care program will likely shutter and after-school programs could expand due to earlier start times at Bend-La Pine elementary schools in September.

Grades kindergarten through fifth will start class at 8 a.m. instead of 9, potentially eliminating the need for Bend Park & Recreation District’s before-school program and increasing demand for the after-school program, according to Sue Boettner, the park district’s recreation manager. The park district is also expecting to expand the capacity and change the start time of its existing after-school programs at 14 elementary schools.

“We expect more folks needing after-school care because of the time changes at all the schools.” Boettner said. “We’re hoping to accommodate more children because we figure the need is going to be greater.”

The Kids Inc. before-school program will become much less necessary starting in September because most parents will be able to drop off their kids before work before the 8 a.m. start of class, according to Boettner. However, parents can email the park district before May 1 if they still need early-morning child care. If there are more than 20 parents interested at a school, the agency will consider a morning program at that location.

The middle and high schools will start and end their days an hour later per the new Bend-La Pine time schedules, removing many families’ method of baby-sitting: the older sibling. Thus, the need for more after-school care.

“Right now, high schoolers get out earlier, and they pick up their younger siblings and get them home,” Boettner said. “Now, they will not be getting out earlier than the elementary school, so that ability is being taken away for the older siblings to do that.”

The evening program will keep its original ending time of 6 p.m. Although staff will work an extra hour after school, the labor costs will be offset by the likely ending of the morning program, Boettner said.

According to Boettner, about 800 students in Bend attend the Kids Inc. after-school program during the current school year, while 775 are enrolled in the morning program.

Due to the expected demand, Boettner and her agency have been testing expanded programs at Elk Meadow and Ponderosa elementary schools since January. Currently in Kids Inc., students can choose from a variety of activities in one location in the school, typically the gym. This year, the capacity for most programs is about 60 students, but at Elk Meadow and Ponderosa, Bend-La Pine let the park district use more classroom space, opening up spots for about 20 more kids at each location, which completely erased the wait lists for the schools.

Ideally, each school’s Kids Inc. will be able to accept 80 to 90 students next year, Boettner said.

“We want to make sure that we can serve everyone that needs after-school care,” she said.

Bend-La Pine Assistant Superintendent Lora Nordquist, who has worked with the park district to allow a Kids Inc. program to grow in Bend’s elementary schools, said the school district was supportive of the park district’s expansion.

“We’re really trying to help them be able to meet the need,” she said. “To help families, giving them more space in our schools is desirable.”

Nordquist said the September opening of North Star Elementary in north Bend should help ease the waitlists, as the existing schools will have more space to host Kids Inc. programs.

Other programs

Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Oregon are also expecting an increase of students in the organization’s own after-school program this fall, according to interim Executive Director Brandy Richardson. The organization already opens its doors at 2:30 p.m. to serve middle and high school students in Bend. Now that elementary students leave classes at that time, Boys & Girls Clubs will prepare to serve younger kids earlier in the day.

Richardson said the organization has 10 employees who handle elementary child care, and if there’s an increase of families signing up this fall, it will consider hiring more staff.

Students in Sunriver and La Pine are served by La Pine Park & Recreation, which, like Boys & Girls Clubs, already started after-school programs at about 2:30 for middle and high schoolers. Students in La Pine go to the La Pine Community Center, while elementary students at the K-8 Three Rivers School in Sunriver have programs in that school building.

The main hurdle, according to Karen Miller, executive director of La Pine’s park district, is La Pine High School students currently volunteer to help mentor younger kids, who come later in the day. She said now that elementary students will arrive first, they’ll start with playtime and shift into homework help later in the afternoon, once the high school gets out.

“We’re just going to flip-flop the spots,” Miller said. “There’s some extra programming we’ll be doing to make sure the kids are entertained and supported in schoolwork.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com