News

Comox after-school program closes after 15 years

After about 15 years of existence, the After School Care (ASC) program at Comox Recreation Centre closed its doors, leaving at least one parent's children without after-school care.

The program ended one week ago Nov. 16, and parent Shannon Pickering says that while she found other childcare for her six-year-old son, she hasn't been able to get her two older daughters into another similar program.

"My one daughter, because she's 11, will come home, and sometimes I'm here and sometimes I'm not," says Pickering. "And then I'm just going to have to use friends and, I don't know, I have to piecemeal it together at this point."

The centre's program director Mandy Johns says the program was cancelled because there just wasn't a great enough need in the community anymore.

"Very, very simply, it was numbers," says Johns, adding after-school care programs at the local elementary schools meant declining enrolment for the Rec Centre's program. "I felt horrible about having to make that decision…But there just wasn't that call for it in the community anymore — the schools have taken it over."

Johns notes about 20 to 25 children used to participate in the program each afternoon in the past, but over the last couple of years, programs were developed at Aspen Park Elementary and Robb Road Elementary.

Then in the spring, Rec Centre staff heard another after-school program was planned to start at Brooklyn Elementary in September.

"We knew it was going to hurt us," she recalls, adding the bulk of the kids came from Brooklyn. "In September we had an average of 10 (kids) and then we were looking at, by the end of October two children were leaving, and we knew we'd be down to eight."

She also noted the two instructors were paid union level wages and the program included picking kids up at Brooklyn by bus after school, which also meant costs for the program. The ASC program ran from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. after school days and cost $12 per child per day.

She says the program was "bleeding" financially in the fall, noting in September alone the program's finances dipped $1,000 into the red.

But Pickering says she didn't think the closure was fair with the announcement coming six weeks into the school year, (about one month before it closed its doors).

"I wasn't happy with the way that they handled it," says Pickering, adding the Rec Centre didn't seem to try to promote it in the community before shutting it down. She says about half the parents she spoke to at Robb Road Elementary — where her daughters attend and where she tried unsuccessfully to get her daughters into after school care — didn't know the program at the Rec Centre existed.

"I didn't see an interest from the Rec Centre to actually keep it open," she says, adding she believes the program should be more about a sense of community than financials.

However, Johns stresses the main reason for cancelling the program was the community's declining need for it.

"I mean it's not all about finances when you're talking about childcare," she explains. "The main thing we're concerned with is the need, and when we opened up this program I'd say roughly about 15 years ago, and there was a great need for it in the community. But now with all the schools opening their own, that need's not there anymore, and that's what the numbers showed us."

Johns also says the Rec Centre planned to end the program at the upcoming holiday break, but decided to close it early after the ASC co-ordinator "saw the writing on the wall," and left for another job. Her last day with the program was Nov. 16, which is the same day it ended.

Johns also says Rec Centre staff checked into the after school programs at the schools at the end of September, and there was room then, but she notes that can change within a week or even a day.

She had thought all parents found alternative arrangements when the Record spoke to her Wednesday.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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