kidsLINK, a safe place for kids to learn and play after 3pm
Based on a national survey of afterschool programs titled America After 3PM, Montana ranks in the bottom five states in terms of program accessibility. But new strides are being made to make sure all Montana youth will have access to enriching afterschool programs with the help of a $225,000 grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Montana is now the 43rd state to launch a statewide afterschool network. And while Montana ranks low for afterschool programs, that's not necessarily the case in the Greater Gallatin area.
"Some of these kids don't have somewhere to go after school or they would go home and end up watching TV," said Amy Revious, KidsLink Director at Morning Star Elementary school. Monday through Friday you'll find dozens of kids making crafts, doing homework or getting a healthy snack. And that's after normal school hours.
Greater Gallatin United Way KidsLink Afterschool Program Director, Megan Brenna, says KidsLink started 17 years ago as a result of a needs assessment. "Really the initial idea of KidsLink was to provide support for working families," said Brenna.
Erica Renslow was picking her sons up at Morning Star Elementary when we caught up with her. "Both my husband and I are working full time. Not only do they get a nutritious snack they can work on homework in a safe environment," said Renslow.
"I appreciate so much having time and resources to do my job better as a teacher and to know my kid here learning. And having down time," said parent and teacher Missey Dore.
The school provides the space and staff and Greater Gallatin United Way helps find and provide funding sources to go along with parent fees. A big part of the sustainability according to Brenna. "So we were able to leverage different resources and work with the school district as partners and look at other community organizations that could contribute to this model," said Brenna.
America after 3PM - a national survey of afterschool programs- revealed that 18,814 children in Montana participate in an afterschool program. It also showed 49,273 would be enrolled in a program if it were available. It is important to note this survey included only a small number of children to represent the entire state of Montana. New Director of Montana's Afterschool Alliance, Siobhan Gilmartin will be traveling the state to get a better understanding of what is needed. "Once we identify the needs, the next step is meeting those needs. "With Montana being a rural state, access is huge. So we're going to look at creative ways to increase access. Next is sustainability," said Gilmartin.
KidsLink started as one site. Now there are 28 sites spanning five counties.
After 3pm in the computer lab at Belgrade Middle school, you'll find several students still sitting in front of computers. One student said if she wasn't in the afterschool program she would probably be sitting on the couch at home watching TV. Other students said it is nice to have teachers on hand to help with homework.
Jill Canfield runs the program at Belgrade Middle. "We try to do things like board games, hands on arts and crafts; things they wouldn't normally do at home," said Canfield.
"All the research shows the more caring adults a kiddo has in life the more successful they'll be," said Brenna.
KidsLink Director Megan Brenna says the goal is to make sure all Montana Kids have access to programs like what is available in the greater Gallatin area. "Now, can we take the KidsLink model and scale it up across the state?"
The Montana Afterschool Alliance plan to have a statewide needs assessment completed by this summer. For more information on KidsLink, click here.