Sioux Falls School District plans expanded, quality after school care
New program will combine Kids Inc. with existing nonprofit programs to offer families services at their elementary school.
“After school” is about to change for hundreds of Sioux Falls students.
The Sioux Falls School District will launch a new collaboration in fall 2023 that expands the structure of after school care, while eliminating much of the transportation costs for nonprofit organizations.
The goal is to make higher-quality programs available and affordable for more families.
The initiative is the result of an effort started in 2018 by Sioux Falls Thrive, a nonprofit dedicated to giving children the opportunity from “cradle to career.” After-school care was an early focus when the organization was founded in 2017.
A study by Augustana University Research, commissioned by Thrive, detailed the need and shortage for after school programs. The research showed that as many as 4,800 elementary age students are unsupervised after school, said Rebecca Wimmer, coordinator of community partnerships and after school programs for the school district.
“We have to do better than that,” Wimmer said in an interview with Sioux Falls Live following the announcement on Thursday, Dec. 15.
The plan uses the Community Learning Center Model. That concept brings a host of options to kids at the elementary school they attend.
Currently, the district operates Kids Inc., which gives students a supervised place to go after school. In addition, nonprofit organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club and the Volunteers of America bus kids from the school to a central location.
With Community Learning Centers, the school district and all those nonprofits will work together to provide services at the school. All the providers will be licensed.
The plan also changes the agreement between the school district and the city of Sioux Falls, which oversees recreation in the community centers connected to several schools.
The result is more academic, athletic and social development for students who need after school care.
“You are getting the best of what our community has to offer and you are getting more programming,” Wimmer said.
A central point is affordability.
The Community Learning Centers will provide scholarships for families who qualify. About 47 percent of students in the Sioux Falls district qualify for free and reduced lunch. Wimmer said she expects that is close to the portion of families who will need scholarships for after school programs.
Families are required to enroll in the program. That will be done in phases beginning in January. Students currently enrolled in Kids Inc. will get the first opportunity.
The district will pool the money from fees, grants and the nonprofit partners to operate the program. Eliminating most of the transportation costs and combining staff resources will make the effort more efficient than they are separately, Wimmer said.
Some families will see an increase in what they were paying, while others will pay less, depending on which program they were in. Costs have gone up for care overall, including at Kids Inc., which is looking at a significant increase for next year if the Community Learning Center plan isn’t approved.
The budget for the first of the program is $7.5 million. It costs about $5,000 to provide after school and summer programs for each student.
“We tried to make this as tight as possible,” she said. “Families need it to be affordable.”
The Boys & Girls Club of the Sioux Empire is one of the partners in the program. The club currently buses up to 200 Sioux Falls students a day from schools to their location on the Empower Campus on East 10th Street.
Next year, the Boys & Girls Club will expand staff to meet the needs in the schools but won’t have to cover the transportation costs. It’s a model they’ve already been working with in Brandon Valley and Harrisburg schools.
“The big upside for us is that we will be able to serve more children,” said Stacy Jones, the organization’s CEO. “It’s a great opportunity to go to the schools and connect with those kids.”
The district knows that this model won’t meet the overall needs, said Wimmer.
In the first year, the plan is to enroll 1,800 students during the school year and 1,000 in the summer. That is an increase of 600 slots available overall.
Wimmer said the district plans to steadily increase the capacity with the long-term goal of expanding to middle schools and high schools.
Money will determine that limit. Applying the formula for scholarship needs, that means for every 100 kids that enroll about half will need scholarships. That money will come from grants and donations through the district or the non-profit partners.
The plan still requires the approval from the city council and school board.
The agreement will transfer the management of the five community centers from the city to the school district. The city will continue to use the gyms for adult sports leagues.
“I am thrilled to be able to work collaboratively with SFSD to provide more opportunities for families to have access to structured, high quality, after school care,” Mayor Paul TenHaken said in a statement. “Providing the community center space, allowing this CLC program to expand, is a win/win partnership that benefits kids and families across our city.”
Other nonprofits involved in the program include the YMCA, Volunteers of America-Dakotas and EmBe.
The nonprofits will coordinate activities intended to complement what kids learn during the school day. Examples of services include mentoring, tutoring and homework help, science and technology programs, art, music, sports and community service.
“Consistency is key when working with children,” School Distict Superintendent Jane Stavem said in a statement. “The Sioux Falls School District is eager to launch the Community Learning Center model so our students and families can grow and learn beyond the school day. We are grateful to the city for providing opportunities through the community centers for more than four decades. We are also excited to enhance offerings with strong support from our community partners.”