Carbondale after-school program eyes expansion | AspenTimes.com

Carbondale after-school program eyes expansion

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE – Armed with growing evidence that a busy kid is less likely to get into trouble, an after-school program for middle-school-aged students that began in Carbondale this year is shopping around for local government support to expand its efforts to Glenwood Springs and Basalt.

Steve Kaufman is the executive director of Access Roaring Fork, which recently broadened the technology-centered programming it had been offering for the past three years with a new pilot after-school program at Carbondale Middle School.

This past spring, in addition to technology classes, Access Roaring Fork partnered with various nonprofit organizations and community volunteers to offer a variety of programs such as language, theater, art, athletics, music and even general homework tutoring.

More than 150 students, about 50 per day, stayed after school to participate in the program.

Kaufman notes that, nationally, some 14 million youth from grades kindergarten through high school must fend for themselves before a parent or guardian returns home from work. In Colorado, 40 percent of middle school students have no after-school supervision.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that national crime statistics indicate that juvenile crime triples between the hours of 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

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“As a country and in our own community, we are failing to keep our children safe,” Kaufman wrote in a guest commentary that appeared in The Aspen Times in February. “Our educators and youth agencies are keenly aware of the opportunities we are missing to reduce drop-out rates and curtail antisocial behaviors.

“By failing to provide safe, mentored and productive environments in the after-school hours, we are giving up on a proven method to improve our kids’ education and enrich their lives,” he wrote.

It’s a message that resonates with communities like Carbondale, which experienced an incident earlier this year in which seven teens were involved in a high-profile assault case that had overtones of being a gang-style initiation.

Carbondale trustees agreed recently to reinstate the police department’s school resource officer program. But some in the community wondered if money wouldn’t be better spent on some type of preventative programming.

Kaufman views what he’s developing as being in partnership with existing efforts, such as the school resource officer programs.

“The Eagle County Sheriff’s Department has a variety of courses aimed at youth crime prevention ready to go, but they’ve never been able to find place in schools to do them during the regular school day,” Kaufman said. “Those courses are best taught by a local police officer, so we have to look at fresh ways to approach these things with short dollars.”

He believes the various communities are now listening, but acknowledges that it’s not an easy time to be out asking for tax dollars.

Kaufman has approached the towns of Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, as well as Garfield and Eagle counties, for funding to expand the programs this coming school year.

“This is something that’s not possible without line item taxpayer support on an ongoing basis,” he said to the Carbondale Board of Trustees during a presentation last month. “I know that’s a hard thing to hear, particularly these days.”

Kaufman is asking for roughly $75,000 from each participating community, but the money may have to follow the programming, which is already in the works for middle schools in each of the three communities. Most local government budgets are set for this year, and funding of that magnitude would have to be considered as part of next year’s budgets.

“For sure, we will be providing Spanish classes and technology classes,” Kaufman said in a follow-up interview this week. “The other programs really depend on funding.

“But my sense is that we are on a downward slope with this,” he said. “People are listening. The most important way to ensure child safety is to keep them at school until a responsible adult can pick them up. It’s almost impossible to ignore the safety aspect of this.”

Glenwood Springs is in the process of considering where some funding may come from, and Kaufman will meet with Carbondale town officials this coming week to discuss some options.

Several supporters of the after-school programming offered their thoughts during the recent Carbondale presentation.

“Kids this age are searching for some positive outlets, and when they don’t have them that’s when they get into trouble,” Carbondale Middle School teacher Joe Markham said. “The town recreation programs are great, but unfortunately they price too many of our kids out.”

Stephanie Scavullo of Basalt said after-school programs are a way for the community to get to know their youth through volunteering.

“If you keep a child busy, you keep them out of trouble,” she said.

“I think there is a role for government to play in addressing this,” Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig said. “It’s just a matter of finding the money.”

Added Trustee Stacey Bernot, “I know that this program is making a difference in a short amount of time. We want to find a way to do this, and this is the perfect time to plant the seed for us to consider it in our budget cycle.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

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