Schools' latchkey programs in demand
Maybe the mid-century image of the "latchkey kid" with a house key strung around his neck and an empty home waiting for him after school is a bit outdated.
But too many children are alone when they go home after school because there aren't enough school-based latchkey programs to fill high demand, some parents and child-care advocates say.
Several central Ohio school districts and Catholic schools run latchkey programs that offer homework help, snacks and some fun after school. But not every district offers before- and after-school help for working parents, and if they do, the slots often fill up quickly. "We know that there are not enough, both from the research that has been done, as well as parents that we hear from that are just desperate to find a program for their children," said Liz Nusken, director of the Ohio Afterschool Network, an advocacy group. "Sadly, sometimes they don't exist in that district or that community."
The Diocese of Columbus runs 20 latchkey programs. "There is an increasing demand for them, especially with two parents working. So the old traditional concept of a mom at home with the kids is not commonplace," said Kitty Quinn, director of school leadership for the diocese.
Columbus City Schools' programs began in 1982 and have grown to serve about 1,000 students in 26 buildings this school year. A handful have waiting lists. So do at least four of Hilliard's 14 sites. Parents foot the bill in both districts' programs. Some other districts run grant-funded after-school programs that also serve as latchkey sites.
In Columbus, sign-up begins in the spring. Students who are enrolled in the latchkey program for the current school year get first dibs on slots for the next school year. Sometimes, newcomers get shut out. "If we can expand a program by adding another teacher and assistant, we do," said Cindy Woodyard, the district's latchkey coordinator.
"Or, because we have so many programs, another way we can help parents out is to allow them to use one of our other latchkey programs." That usually works out well, she said. The district buses students to another latchkey site that often is closer to parents' workplaces.
Some parents say latchkey programs are too expensive. Robyn Taylor, who has twins and is the president of the Columbus Council of PTAs, relies on latchkey. "For me, we're talking $65 per child, per week, for before- and after-school," she said. "We're only talking an hour and a half in the morning and another hour and a half after school. That's a lot of money for a few hours a day."
Taylor said the district should consider opening more sites and seeking grant money to relieve the burden on parents. District officials say their latchkey programs, which have a budget of about $1 million, are cost-effective compared with privately run ones.
Having a program based at school and run by educators offers a huge benefit to students, Woodyard said.