Latch-key kids have alternatives

Steamboat Springs after-school programs abound

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— Parents need not fear of what to do with their children after the school bell rings and before the dinner bell rings when the school year begins Aug. 27.

Some of the same recreational and educational programs continue from the summer through the school year, although the nature of activities changes with the times and seasons.

Emerald City, funded by the city of Steamboat Springs, provides more than just child care for children after school and for special days off.

The children's activity center houses activities ranging from intimate drama productions to ice skating at Howelsen Ice Arena to a day at the pool.

Parks and Recreation's after-school program operates Monday through Friday during the school year, with the exception of major holidays.

Programs are provided to students in the junior division (kindergarten through second grade) and in the senior division (third through fifth grade).

Emerald City provides transportation from Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementaries to either Emerald City or the location of the particular activity.

The after-school program allows students to participate in "sneaky learning," also known as learning through fun activities, exercise activities such as ultimate Frisbee or bike day and dramatic activities such as puppet making.

"Sometimes we'll do drama activities like making up commercials and then videotaping ourselves," said Jennifer Rose, youth program coordinator for the recreation department, which created the term "sneaky learning."

"The bottom line is, if it's fun and safe and kids enjoy it, we'll try it," Rose said.

Youth program specialist Kristin Selby said there's a hidden message with every activity that the children participate in.

"We talk about respect a lot, constantly," Selby said. "Respect for the environment, respect for people, for language, for conduct. We talk about caring. We're with each other every day we're like a family."

Kicking around the soccer ball may seem like simple fun, but Selby said instructors always are reinforcing good sportsmanship, sharing and friendship building.

"We're very much into team building and figuring things out as a group," Selby said. "We stress values and how to be leaders that exemplify that."

Visiting Steamboat Springs' local vendors to support business is something a city-funded program tries to do, Rose said.

Selby said one activity includes visiting the Doak Walker Care Center to play Bingo with the residents.

Along with after-school activities, Emerald City has full-day programs as well as programs for days such as teacher conferences.

"We break it down into two half-days. It's pretty much the same programming except in the morning we might be doing arts and crafts and in the afternoon we might go skiing or to the pool," Rose said.

The full-day program costs $22 a day. While parents are getting creative with their children's after-school activities, Rose said she's not worried about business at Emerald City someone always will need its services.

"It's a safe place for them to stay after school," Selby said. "Instead of sitting in front of the TV or computer, when they come to our place they're out and about doing healthy activities."

After-school activities at Emerald City are $6 a day and parents can enroll their children on a day-by-day basis.

Rose said Emerald City works with the county, First Impressions and the Child Care Assistance Program to provide low-income families with tuition assistance.

The city pays for snacks for the children and part of the transportation costs.

The school district pays for the other half of transportation.

The maximum number of students in the junior program is 30; the maximum for seniors is 24.

Rose said usually there are about 10 spaces available in each division throughout the year.

Selby said she usually plans a month in advance what after-school activities will be approaching so parents and students know how to plan accordingly.

Staff members consist of one or two high school students who have some experience with baby sitting and get references checked through the city.

Emerald City also hires college graduates, substitute teachers or formal teachers with time on their hands to stay involved with the children. The ratio of adults to children in the senior division is 1:12, 1:10 for the junior division.

"We have a wonderful group of leaders," Selby said.

Rose also mentioned a collaboration with the Parent/Teacher Information Committee and the Parent Information Committee to form the Enrichment Club Programs after school.

Clubs meet once a week for eight weeks during the school year to learn more educational and enriching activities from first through fifth grades.

Rose said the clubs range from a flight club to a language club to a dinosaur club.

The cost breaks down to $6 a day; however, parents must pay for the eight-week program all at once vs. the other after-school program at Emerald City.

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