Last week was an exciting time for families as students pulled out their backpacks, took first day of school pictures and entered their classrooms to meet their teachers for the first time.
This week was also a very stressful time for nearly 1,000 families in Salt Lake City who were affected by the sudden loss of the Salt Lake City School District After School Program that they have relied on for their children.
Administered by the Community Education Department of Salt Lake School District, and funded by tuition paid by parents of the enrolled students, the mission of the SLCSD After School Program is “to provide quality out-of-school time programs in a safe, nurturing and educational environment where students can learn valuable life skills, develop character, make new friends, discover new interests, and prepare to be lifelong learners and responsible contributors to a diverse society.” It also fills a crucial child care need for single-parent households or cases when both parents work.
The SLCSD After School Program offers a wide variety of enrichment experiences in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM). Students also have the opportunity to participate in field trips and hear from guest presenters. My daughter, a first-grader at Bonneville Elementary, was able to participate in this program last year where she made many new friends and had many rewarding learning experiences.
This school year she won’t be able to be part of the program. Less than two weeks before school, we received notice that space in the SLCSD After School Program was extremely limited because of a hiring shortage — due primarily to the inadequate pay by the district for the After School coordinators ($10 an hour).
This means that our daughter — and hundreds of other students in the Salt Lake City District — are currently waitlisted with no guarantee of being accepted into the program.
Because of the late notice these families received, most private aftercare programs in the Salt Lake City area were already full. I have personally spoken with single-parent families who have no options for their children, and have had to cancel, rearrange or find new employment as a result.
Effective after-school programs have many benefits, but overall help keep students safe, boost student success and enable many parents to remain employed and contributing to Utah’s economy (and tax revenue). Children in structured after-school care programs achieve more, have increased productivity and have a lower chance of engaging in risky behaviors (refer to AfterschoolAlliance.org for more statistics).
Despite these many benefits, the need and demand for these after-school programs far exceeds the funding and resources available in Salt Lake City and Utah as a whole. This problem will continue to be exacerbated when you consider the vast job growth and influx of additional working parents in Utah.
We can do much better, especially with record high tax revenue to the state, funds available in the School Land Trust Funds, along with a flourishing economy. Now is the time to be investing in programs for our students’ future, not cancelling them.
I strongly encourage the Salt Lake City School Board, Salt Lake City School District, superintendent and the leaders of our state government to work quickly to find solutions to fill this gaping hole in our education system. Increasing the pay for staff for these programs will help. A better recruitment strategy for after-school programs is desperately needed. Until then, the Salt Lake City School District has failed 1,000 students, parents, and families.
Callie Apt, Salt Lake City, works in sales in the tech industry.
Correction: An earlier version of the headline for this article said the Salt Lake City School District After School Programs were closed. They are not closed. Many of them are over-subscribed and placing children on waiting lists.