Survey says parents largely happy with Boys and Girls Club, but want some sports changes

The results of a community survey has provided useful information to the Boys and Girls Club of Sweet Home as it plans its direction, according to club President Ron Moore, but funding and logistics are challenges to developing after-school programs to meet the all of the desires of those responding to the questionnaire.

Comments throughout the surveys were supportive of the Boys and Girls Club and praised it for the sports and after-school programs it already operates. Several were critical of the School Board for wasting time on this.

For School Board member Chanz Keeney, who initiated the process, the survey results show that responding parents feel much the way he does about priorities and expectations. Keeney initiated the process through the School Board to explore the idea of developing a district after-school sports program.

For School District 55 Supt. Larry Horton, funding is an obstacle to developing school district sports programs, but the district is interested in trying some ideas to meet some of the needs identified in the survey.

A School Board subcommittee on after-school sports programs sent the survey out to the parents of 1,200 elementary students. Of those, approximately 253 were returned.

The return is not unreasonable, Horton said.

“At this point, I don’t see that the district has enough funds to expand new options,” Horton said, although there were a reasonable number of parents who would like to see an after-school program.

If funds become available, Horton said, perhaps something like Foster’s after-school Community Learning Centers program, which is grant funded, could provide opportunities for help with homework, sports and arts and crafts.

Sports programs probably wouldn’t replace what Sweet Home has now, he said, but different Sweet Home schools could end up playing each other as part of an after-school program.

The program might include a six-week basketball program, he said. After that, the schools might hold a district-wide basketball tournament.

“One of the committee’s recommendations that will go to the board is a district track meet as a pilot to see if something like that will work,” Horton said. The district would work with its PE teachers on this, probably for the fourth through sixth grades.

The pilot program would help the district understand the complications of such ideas better, Horton said. It would also give sixth-grade students time to do things together, so it’s not a shock when they reach the seventh grade.

“But if it creates more competition and hard feelings than teamwork and getting to know each other, it might not be worth it,” he said.

On Monday, Feb. 9, the committee will give other suggestions to the board, he said, but “finances are going to restrict any actions in moving forward on any inter-mural program.”

Horton is estimating a cost of about $2,000 per month per school to run an intermural district sports program after school, he said. That is a “very loose” figure that assumes at least three staff members at each site. It also doesn’t take into account volunteers.

Based on the survey, it was difficult to see how many would be available and how often, he said, although it was clear parents are willing to volunteer.

Looking forward, the district and the Boys and Girls Club are willing to look at ideas together, he said. The committee has shared the results of the survey with the club.

“There is interest, unfortunately we’re facing financial times in which the Boys and Girls Club and District cannot invest funds in expanding or adding programs.”

Keeney looks to several questions as an affirmation of some of his thoughts. Question nine asks parents “are you looking for a program that stresses fun and basics or skills and competition?”

In answer, 167 respondents said, “fun and basics” while 82 said “skills and competition.”

More than two-thirds support his position on it, he said. “In elementary school, it should be stressed, fun and basics.”

Asked who they want their kids to play, 157 chose “school versus school in district,” while 50 wanted “only students in own school” and 56 wanted “school in other communities.”

“I don’t think elementary kids need to be traveling during school nights,” Keeney said. More than 200 response wanted to keep students in Sweet Home.

Scheduling was another of his concerns, and most parents said they wanted their children home before 6 p.m., he said, although he thinks late games on Friday would be all right.

The survey asked which times would be best for operation of these programs. In response, 69 said between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.; 141 said within an “hour immediately after dismissal” from school; and three said “any” time. Another question showed that 80 parents want the programs to end before 6 p.m.; while 15 said before 4 p.m.; 46, before 5 p.m. and 54, before 7 p.m.

The survey shows that the majority differ a lot with what’s being offered, Keeney said. Options for answering these concerns include meeting and working with the Boys and Girls Club. The second option is, if it’s not available through the club, possibly running something through the PTCs.

“Honestly, I got overwritten in our committee,” he said. He preferred pursuing this idea through the district using volunteers, noting that Horton doesn’t think the district has the staff to do it.

Especially during a time of budget cuts, it would be a burden to the district, Keeney said. Still, he would like to look further into it, “but I’ve got to respect the committee.”

Although not an option now, Keeney believes there may be opportunities in President Obama’s stimulus package for after-school programs, he said. At the same time, the district has “a lot of real information,” with a good response rate, to work with.

For example, the survey shows that nearly all parents, 190-17, would still have their children participating even if there was no transportation provided following the program, he said. Some 121 would be willing to pay a $10 to $20 fee, while 64 would pay more and only 32 couldn’t pay.

Seventy of the respondents said their children participate in Boys and Girls Club activities now.

Outside of sports, 19 wanted to see after-school music; 17 a homework club; 14 art; and 13 dance.

Moore said the club was interested in the information gleaned from the survey.

“I guess we hope that we can find ways to take the information that has been provided and better serve the kids in our community,” he said. The survey also showed many parents are happy with what the club is doing in the community.

The results are not news to the club, he said. “To me, it’s stuff we already knew and are already trying to do.”

It would have been easier to have this discussion privately and build a partnership, and those discussions have happened, he said. For example, he and Horton have had discussions about how to run a homework club.

“We’re trying to do the best we can with what we have,” he said. The club has 900 students, mostly involved in sports programs, with about 140 to 160 using the club regularly after school.

“We must be doing something right,” he said, and there are opportunities for students after school.

“I think there’s some people out there that are concerned,” Moore said, and he definitely values their concerns, but there are real obstacles to addressing them, such as funding and staffing. The School District has the same issues.

“Some stuff isn’t feasible or we’ve already tried it,” he said. “We’re definitely going to take a look at what’s going to on to see if we can make things better for the kids in our community within funding constraints. We definitely won’t discount them, but we do have our limitations.”

He explained that one-third of the children who use the club are there on scholarships. The club budgeted $13,000 this year for scholarships.

The club may not respond to these concerns immediately, he said, but over time, he hopes the information will help it reach out and better serve more children.