City DopeNews

Athens Parents Face Child-Care Challenges

A recent virtual meeting involving representatives from the ACC government, the Clarke County School District and UGA focused on outreach to children and youth in Athens, including everything from summer camps to child care to ASP programs.   

Parents choosing child care in Athens have limited choices. Child care has an average monthly cost of $559 per child. For low-income residents especially, child care is often a patchwork involving grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and older siblings as well as staff members at facilities. Child-care facilities aren’t close to the homes of low-income residents and aren’t open when they need the care. That information was collected by Grace Bagwell Adams with the UGA College of Public Health for the Athens Wellbeing Project, a survey of residents on their health-care and social services needs. 

Before COVID-19, ACC Leisure Services provided not only 36 summer camps for elementary and middle school-aged children, but also 12 different teen camps and free swimming lessons for 5-year-olds. It partnered with CCSD in using facilities and resources, including buses and tennis courts, among others. It supported the Grand Slam summer program in 2019, which brought 338 children, ages 11–14, together on Friday nights at Cedar Shoals for fun and enrichment activities. Leisure Services director Kent Kilpatrick didn’t say what’s on tap for the summer, but he did say that teenagers would like to have their own place in the community to hang out.

UGA’s Office of Service Learning has “no programs without partnerships,” said director Shannon Brooks. With a USDA grant, her office initiated the “Grow It, Know It” program, which focuses on combating food insecurity by teaching children to grow and use vegetables and fruits, as well as to compost food waste. Begun in 2014 at Clarke Middle, the program now is at all four middle schools, where Americorps VISTA volunteers help students and manage the gardens year-round. Produce is distributed throughout the community. Despite COVID-19, Brooks’ office has partnered with Leisure Services to offer outdoor programming this spring at the East Athens Community Center and Lay Park, where students are building raised beds. 

Before COVID-19 disrupted the school year, all of the district’s 14 elementary schools had an After School Program. For children to participate, parents typically paid $10 to register their child, then $6 a day for the first child and $4 each for siblings. Each school program included homework help, a snack and outdoor play time, as well as an occasional movie and two field trips for children and their parents. At some schools, parents have paid extra fees for activities such as karate or ceramics on site. CCSD administrators are evaluating the ASP program to decide whether to keep it “in-house” or hire a private contractor to provide services, according to Hope McGuire, the district’s director of academic support, special projects and Title I. Participating families would pay the vendor instead of the school’s ASP program.

Even during the pandemic, the district’s 21st Century Grant is continuing to help elementary and middle school children who aren’t meeting standards. During the school year, 250 elementary students are taught at H.T. Edwards and 4th Street Elementary, while each middle school helps 45 students. Nine of 21 schools in the district have a Pathways to Success Program in place to help students close academic gaps. There will be virtual instruction this year for high school students. 

School board member Mumbi Anderson pointed out that many families may not know what opportunities are available or when they should be registering for camps and programs. She said some Leisure Services camps for younger children are only half-day, meaning that participating families would still need to find child care for the afternoon. She is also worried that there are no extracurricular activities through the summer for middle and high school students to build social and emotional skills. More conversations and collaboration are sure to follow, participants said.