The Forest Park District 91 school board unanimously approved a proposal from the West Cook YMCA to offer free afterschool programming for primary school students next year.
“The Y first came to us, and we started talking, and they asked us basically, ‘If you have a need in the community, what is it? What can we do to support your needs?'” Superintendent Lou Cavallo said at a board meeting in March, where he introduced the program, called Y-Kids. Board members approved funding Y-Kids at a regular meeting on April 11.
The program will be modeled after programming the Y has done at other districts — offering homework help, social and emotional skills, foreign language, STEM and more — and Cavallo said that if there were community demand for one topic over another, the Y will adjust the program.
“The families are seen as partners, and I think it’s so important that the families and the kids and the adults are involved with this in whatever way possible,” Kim Rostello, board president, said at the April meeting.
Y-Kids will be offered free to all primary students, starting next school year from 2:45 to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, at Garfield Elementary School. D91 will bus interested Betsy Ross Elementary School students to the program. If enough students participate, Cavallo said, Y-Kids could potentially expand to the other school.
“We have tried other programs like this in the past; they haven’t been as diverse as this with as many opportunities,” Cavallo said at the March meeting. “We’ve tried foreign language after school. We initially would get enough kids to have one class, and then they would dwindle off and we wouldn’t do it anymore. This will be the same thing if we don’t get enough kids.”
Cavallo said adding afterschool programming for primary students was “the biggest need” the district has currently identified, since families have mentioned to him several times previously that the district lacked the service.
“We didn’t do a survey but we did hear from parents,” he said. The program is budgeted at $8.50 per student. If fewer than 40 students attend — an estimate Cavallo called “aggressive” — the total cost for the district will be lower. Cavallo said he asked the board to foot the bill because intermediate students don’t pay for their extracurricular activities.
“We haven’t, in the past, [had families pay] for any of our other extracurricular activities, and I don’t want to hold the primary kids to a different standard,” Cavallo said. “The intermediate kids don’t have to pay for intramurals or math club or science club; the middle-school kids don’t have to pay for any of their extracurriculars, so I didn’t want primary to either.”
He added that having the Y staff the program also saves the district costs. At the April meeting, Eric Connor, a board member, called having Y officials staff the program “cost effective.”
“We would be relying on our teachers to do afterschool activities and paying for teachers to do that at essentially their regular teacher rates for the hours that they work,” Connor said. “This is really just a marvelous solution to take people who exist in the community, that have an expertise in these areas.”
Board member Christina Ricordati added that the Y’s involvement also helps strengthen the organization’s ties to Forest Park.
“I hear a lot of people say, ‘Oh the Oak Park Y’ and I think that there’s just a misconception that it is the Oak Park West Cook Y,” she said. “So I think that this is just another way to bring the Y into the Forest Park community so that people may utilize the Y for some other stuff, if there’s more recognition that it does service everybody.”
Students who need care past 4 p.m. can be transported to the Y’s separate afterschool program at St. John Lutheran Church for an additional fee. Students can also go to the Howard Mohr Community Center or Park District of Forest Park if they need additional care.