By RENEE WEBB
SPENCER – Catholic schools in the Diocese of Sioux City continually look for ways to serve families in their area.
It was a parent survey that resulted in one school hosting a summer care program for the first time in the summer of 2016. Sacred Heart Summer Care Program in Spencer started the first day of summer break in May and continued through Aug. 19, closing one day early to get the building ready for a new school year.
Amanda Woodall, lead teacher at Sacred Heart, ran the program with Kristie Carlson. They were assisted by several Sacred Heart school teachers.
“We had successfully just completed our second year of after-school care, and it was a huge success,” noted Woodall. “We had families relying on us in providing that after-school care daily. Knowing that we wanted to continue that care with those families, we saw a summer care program as a great way to continue meeting the needs of our families.”
Each day the summer care program opened at 7:30 a.m. and closed at 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday – only closing on the Fourth of July.
Woodall noted the program was open only to Sacred Heart school families and was offered for children in preschool through sixth grade.
“That was a really nice advantage for our preschool kids, because through summer care, they had time to adjust to the building, meet some of the staff, and become more comfortable with the school setting, which led to an easier transition when school started in the fall,” she said.
While 52 children were enrolled in the program, the program averaged 25 children daily.
Children who attended the summer care program were able to participate in a wide array of activities from educational to recreational and even service.
Woodall explained crafts, books and activities were centered on weekly themes such as camping, Dr. Seuss, the beach and patriotism.
“They had the option to go to the pool a couple of times a week, walked to local parks and even went to a couple summer plays up at Treasure Village,” she noted. “The movie theater offers free movies throughout the summer on certain days, and we took kids to those.”
Located next door to a nursing home, the children spent time with the residents and sang them songs for the Fourth of July. Plus, they went to the library a couple of times a week for story time and activities.
Janelle McEntee, a parent, called the program a blessing. Her children, Avery and Alayna, looked “forward to each day and the atmosphere and activities provided by a wonderful staff.”
The McEntee family was thankful for the many activities such as trips to the aquatic center and library that provided “safety and great opportunities for learning during the days spent at child care.”
Woodall noted that parents had a safe and fun environment for their children during the summer.
“They already knew it was a place they already trust, along with staff they already trust,” she said. “They knew their child was going to be in good hands.”
Finding summer care for children, especially if no younger ones are in daycare, can be difficult, Woodall stressed.
“Sacred Heart Summer Care helps to meet our parents’ needs,” she said. “Prior to opening this care program, we put out a survey to all of our school families, so we knew the interest was there.”
The school, she noted, has benefited from the program not only by meeting the needs of Sacred Heart families, but by being the only school in Spencer that offers a program like this. It helps make Sacred Heart more marketable to incoming families.
As a side note, when the Early Childhood Center is completed at Sacred Heart, Woodall noted they plan to offer year-round care there as well. It will serve 2- and 3-year-olds.
Given that the summer care program went so well, Woodall said they plan to offer it again next year.