Athol YMCA, ACES team up to offer before-school care  

  • The Athol Area YMCA, in conjunction with the Athol Royalston Regional School District, is offering a new early morning before-school care program. FILE

  • Athol Community Elementary School is the site of the new early morning YMCA care program starting up. DEBORRAH PORTER

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 8/25/2019 9:55:11 PM
Modified: 8/25/2019 9:55:09 PM

ATHOL – More people with jobs in the metro Boston area are moving to Athol, according to Athol Area YMCA Associate Executive Director Matt Talbot, and that means their commute gets under way very early. It also means some need to figure out what to do with their young children before they hit the road to work.

The Y has come up with a solution – for some of them, anyway. The organization is instituting a before school program to give some of those children a safe, nurturing place to be between the time their parents leave for work and the start of the school day. The Y already oversees a long-running afterschool program at Athol Community Elementary School that serves upwards of 70 children, according to Talbot.

“Three years ago, we started the Y-ACES program,” he said. “We transferred what had been our Kids Depot. It’s been a really good experience. We have a really good relationship with the school.”

“Two or three years ago,” he continued, “we spoke with the then-principal of the school and he expressed that it was really important that we try to work in a before school program. It wasn’t a great time, then, for us to do that. We were in the middle of applying for the 21st Century Learning grant for Y-ARMS (Athol Royalston Middle School). Then we were in the middle of the re-application process for the next three years of the 21st Century Learning grant for the elementary school. So, it wasn’t a good time last year, either.”

“This year we said, ‘Let’s buckle down, let’s make it happen,” said Talbot. “I met with (Principal) Shannon Cleveland a couple of times and we discussed what the program would look like. We basically came to the conclusion that it would be a great fit. She then took it to Superintendent (Darcy) Fernandes, who said, ‘It sounds like a great idea. Let’s do it. Let’s go for it.’ So, now we’re under way.”

Talbot said a survey was sent to the parents of all Y-ACES students seeking feedback on the idea of a before school program.

“We got 59 responses,” he said, “of which, 39 indicated that they wanted to see before-school care. That’s an overwhelming demand, and I’m sure there are people who didn’t have access to respond to the survey who would also like to see it.”

The program will stuart at 6:30 a.m. each school day. 

“What we’ll do is, when the kids get there, we’ll start off with some quiet reading time,” Talbot explained. “We’re hoping to support the literacy movement that the school has. Literacy is one of the district’s primary focuses, and we’re trying to support that. Or they’ll have time to maybe finish homework they didn’t finish the night before.”

“Then we’ll get them some time in the gym, so they can get in and run around and burn off some energy so they can, hopefully, be more focused when they get into class. We really want to help with their focus during the school year, to help them in the classroom.”

“There are a lot of people moving into town but still working outside of this community,” Talbot continued. “Someone that has to travel into Boston from here, for some there are no options for them when it comes to child care. Our hope is that people will have more options, and we can help provide that for them.”

A sample schedule indicates reading time will take place from 6:30 to 7 a.m. Physical activity will run from 7 to 7:45, and will include outdoor play, gym games, running, and walking. The program concludes with table activities from 7:45 to 8:15. Table activities described in the schedule include Magnatiles, Osmos, Legos, Ipad programs for literacy and math, coloring, and several other activities.

The cost of the program, for children in grades Kindergarten through 5, is $40 per week Talbot said financial assistance will be made available for families in need.

YMCA Director Jennifer Gordon, said,”Hopefully this will fill some of the gap care issues people have trying to get their children to school. Parents drop them off in the morning right at ACES and they are met with YMCA staff. As part of the 21 Century Grant, we have teachers, paras and staff on site for the program.”

“That’s the beauty of it all,” said Gordon, “they are still with the YMCA, and they experience a restful, peaceful morning — not a crash and dash scenario — that puts them on a good path to start the day. 

For more information call the front desk at the Y at 978-249-3305.

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