Prior to the School Committee’s vote this evening on the recommendation to award a rent and programming contract to Kidsborough rather than the current provider Lextended Day, we wanted to share some information about the proposed program. (You’ll receive a general Saturday news roundup as usual later this week.)
Christeen Rohwer, Kidsborough’s owner and administrator, answered questions from LexObserver about the program via email over the weekend. Here are the main takeaways.
IN THIS ISSUE:
- Kidsborough offers several types of programming; should the School Committee approve the contract, the company will solicit family input before finalizing their plans.
- Flexibility to operate in a homework-free system.
- Block prices would stay the same next year; in the future, Kidsborough “will not increase rates more than 2% per year.”
- Supporting the pandemic needs of students e.g. through the “Social Skills Club.”
- Supporting students with special needs.
- Managing the challenges of hiring this year.
- Kidsborough anticipates having the capacity to hire “at least 50%” of current Lextended staff.
- What do staff benefits look like?
- How Kidsborough has navigated COVID.
- Rohwer’s message to LPS families: “Kidsborough is a local, family-owned company.”
What to know about Kidsborough
The School Committee will vote tonight on a new provider for after school care in Lexington’s elementary schools.
Kidsborough offers several types of programming; should the School Committee approve the contract, the company will solicit family input before finalizing their plans.
- Rohwer outlined a range of activities offered on a given afternoon for students enrolled in Kidsborough. Most activities are “in a structured format” but “others are more free-flowing”; it’s up to the students which they participate in, and they also have the option to participate in “none at all.” A Kidsborough afternoon typically includes “a nutritious snack, enrichment activities that may include art, science, cooking, drama, music, etc,” Rohwer wrote. Additional clubs are offered “based upon student interest” and among these, “some popular ones have included chess, foreign language, robotics, knitting, cartooning and dance.” There is also “lots of outside play and plenty of free-choice time.” Should the School Committee approve the contract tonight, Rohwer plans to survey parents in the next couple of weeks, which “will provide parents the opportunity to share their preferred afterschool format/content and make suggestions for new programming, such as a before school program.” Adapting to individual needs from the district to the student level is Kidsborough’s strength, Rohwer wrote; overall, their curriculum is characterized by “tremendous flexibility” acknowledging that “each school and student has different interests.” Each day of after school care supports “the child’s social, emotional and physical well-being” while trying to “expose the students to as many enrichment opportunities as possible, in the hope they find something or things that they love to do.”
Flexibility to operate in a homework-free system.
- When Rohwer started Kidsborough “22 years ago, every student had homework,” she wrote. The program has evolved in step with “educational philosophies.” Though most of the districts Kidsborough currently serves “have some form of homework…It is our goal to match the needs and expectations of each district and family,” Rohwer wrote.
Block prices would stay the same next year and Kidsborough “will not increase rates more than 2% per year.”
- “As a former working parent, I have always taken great care to keep the program affordable,” Rohwer wrote. For instance, Kidsborough has never charged a registration fee, because she “thought it was silly to charge parents for moving paper.” Kidsborough’s “tuition pricing is in line with local non-profits,” Rohwer added. This means Kidsborough is committed to “maintain the current Lextended block prices for the 2022-23 school year and will not increase rates more than 2% per year.”
Supporting the pandemic needs of students e.g. through the “Social Skills Club.”
- Since the pandemic hit, “we have added more social, emotional supports,” Rohwer wrote. Staff have gone above and beyond to make themselves available to individual students, she said. Kidsborough created a “Social Skills Club” led by the program’s “behavior specialists” during the pandemic “to help our students with disabilities work through the new challenge of less social interaction.” This program generated interest from students without disabilities as well, so it became “a wonderful example of inclusion from a different perspective,” Rohwer added.
Supporting students with special needs.
- Beyond the “Social Skills Club” run by behavioral specialists, Kidsborough does its best to accommodate “all students to the best of our ability” into its programming. The company does not provide 1:1 aides for students, but Kidsborough is “often able to enroll a student that has a 1:1 during the day, but does not need a 1:1 in the after school setting” because “the demands during a school day can be very different from the demands in an after school program.” Before enrolling a student who has a 1:1 aide during the school day, their board certified behavioral analyst (BCBA), with permission, “will observe/assess the student in one or more settings (sometimes including the classroom).” This helps Kidsborough “determine the level of care that would be required to support the student in an after school setting.”
Managing the challenges of hiring this year.
- Rohwer stressed that “we are very selective during the hiring process and it has always benefitted the program.” The majority of Kidsborough’s current staff have worked at the company for at least five years, she specified. Hiring was not a challenge for the company “until this school year,” Rohwer wrote: “This year it has been a challenge to meet our 1:8 goal at all locations given the current staffing shortage.” As such, they “have been closer to 1:10.” Kidsborough has responded to the challenges of the labor market by “raising wages and improving benefits, trying to think outside the box, especially when it comes to additional time-off,” Rohwer wrote. They are also “about to embark on trying new recruiting methods and identifying untapped pockets of potential new employees,” she added.
They anticipate having the capacity to hire “at least 50%” of current Lextended staff.
- “We have had the pleasure of interviewing a number of site coordinators and staff from Lextended Day and will be making offers of employment following School Committee contract approval,” Rohwer wrote. Specifically, “Kidsborough anticipates having the capacity to hire at least 50% of the current Lextended Day staff.” She expects that some Lextended staff “may choose to retire or seek employment elsewhere.”
What do staff benefits look like?
- To qualify for health and dental plans, Kidsborough staff must work 30 hours per week, Rohwer wrote; at Lextended, all staff who work more than 20 hours per week are offered health insurance, according to Executive Director Heather Hartshorn. Due to school dismissal times “most part-time staff work less than 20 hours/week,” Rohwer wrote, but “some part-time staff may be offered additional planning hours which will help them hit the minimum.” Additionally, since many of Kidsborough’s “very part-time employees” get health insurance through the state, Kidsborough subsidizes these plans “with an annual payment to reduce their premiums.” Beyond health care, “employees who are 18 or older and work 1,000 hours their first year are eligible for the 401K plan,” Rohwer added. For staff eligible, Kidsborough’s benefits package includes:
- Harvard Pilgrim Health Insurance
- Delta Dental Insurance
- 2-4 weeks of paid vacation
- 401K with up to 4% match
- A profit-sharing plan
How Kidsborough has navigated COVID.
- Kidsborough included an overview of its COVID-19 response in its proposal to Lexington. “Like all childcare programs we faced significant challenges during COVID,” Rohwer wrote. She takes pride in the way Kidsborough responded, which involved close collaboration with partner districts. In the spring of 2020, this meant serving as an Early Education Care Emergency Child Care Center for first responders and essential workers at their Hopkinton location and offering a range of Zoom activities to Kidsborough kids including “Story Tellers, Sports Debate, Chess Club, Fitness Fun, Kitchen Crafts, Group Games, Line Dancing (our most popular – with 58 participants!), Outdoor Sensory Experience, Art Symmetry Projects, Yoga, Bingo, Show & Tell and Snacktivities.” A group of staff sewed and donated over 1,000 masks to the Kidsborough community, local police and hospitals. Some “dropped off gift packs to the children and others formed ‘drive-by Hello!/We Miss You! Caravans.’” Kidsborough also opened four full-time summer programs with 1:5 staff to student ratios in order to “[bring] some normalcy back to our kids and their families” while keeping students safe and following cleaning protocols. “The result was very happy children and parents and zero COVID-19 transmissions all summer,” Rohwer wrote. As for the “back-to-school scramble” in fall 2020, this involved juggling “five districts with five different plans, some changing every other week.” Kidsborough opened remote learning centers exclusively for school-age children of district staff in collaboration with two separate districts to help teachers be able to return to their classrooms, Rohwer wrote, on top of running three remote learning centers and operating 10 sites “in some variation of the hybrid model from September 2020 to March 2021.” These programs sometimes served very few students at a time, Rohwer noted; “In some districts, this meant opening a morning program for two students or an afternoon for nine.”
Rohwer’s message to LPS families: “Kidsborough is a local, family-owned company.”
- In response to those families who have voiced concerns about changing from Lextended after the nonprofit’s long run in town, on top of the barrage of unpredictable changes driven by COVID-19, Rohwer wrote “I completely understand their concern. I can only tell you that we’ve been through this several times now and have had only positive outcomes.” She stressed that “children are more resilient than we give them credit for” and come to trust Kidsborough’s staff and enjoy the activities “after a few days or weeks depending on the student.” Rohwer wants LPS families to know that “Kidsborough is a local, family-owned company,” she wrote. “We are beyond thrilled to be joining the LPS community and can’t wait to meet everyone.”
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Nicco Mele, Sophie Culpepper, Sarah Liu, Vivian Wang and Seiya Saneyoshi