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Afterschool programs launch for elementary students in District 161

Elementary school students in Flossmoor School District 161 now have the opportunity to sign up for free afterschool programs, thanks to two government grants.

At their Oct. 11 meeting, district board members present unanimously approved implementation of the programs. Members Misha Blackmon and Cameron Nelson were absent from the meeting.

Director of Learning and Instruction Amabel Crawford told members of the board of education about the program at its Sept. 26 board meeting. 

The district is partnering with Wiz Kids Foundation, a local organization that will provide program materials and some instructional staff, Crawford said. Wiz Kids has a federal grant through the American Rescue Plan Act, which sets aside $1.22 billion for afterschool programs.

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The grant, which is part of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), allows Wiz Kids to deliver afterschool sports and activities at no charge to students, she said. 

“It’s part of an initiative to help students by keeping them engaged after school,” Crawford said.

According to Crawford, Wiz Kids received a total $450,000 grant, only a portion of which will be spent at District 161. No actual money will be exchanged between Wiz Kids and the district.

District employees will make up the remainder of the afterschool instructional staff, Crawford said. Their pay will be funded by the district’s own federal ESSER grant money. Now in its third round of funding, the grant will cover staff salaries for up to two years.

“We would need to make decisions about whether we would keep afterschool programs at the elementary school level beyond that,” Crawford said.

Until now, afterschool programming in District 161 was available only to students attending Parker Junior High School.

Initial afterschool offerings for students in kindergarten through fifth grade include enrichment activities such as coding, art club, drama, chess and debate; and athletics such as soccer, basketball, tennis and track.

The programs will run from 3:15 to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays at each of the four elementary schools in the district. Crawford said they are hoping to start by early November.

Bus service will not be available for students leaving elementary afterschool programs, not due to lack of funds, but lack of available buses, said Associate Superintendent Fran LaBella.

“We weren’t able to get buses. At the moment, it’s just not possible,” LaBella said. “We’re lucky to have a full complement of drivers. Most of the districts around us do not. If the buses become available, we’ll look into getting them for the afterschool program.”

Crawford said the district wants to be aware of how these programs could affect the Extra Innings afterschool care program run by the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District at some of its elementary schools.

“This program could potentially have an impact on our partnership with the park district,” she said. “We’re planning to partner with them so that we’re not eating away at their program.”

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