Families

Bellingham elementary schools get out earlier – here’s some ideas for your kids

Lucia Goritsas, 8, left, her sister Gabriella Goritsas, 8, Jacqueline Rodriguez, 8, and Aloura Hinzo, 9, perform during the After School Enrichment musical theatre class at Cordata Elementary in Bellingham, Wednesday, June 7.
Lucia Goritsas, 8, left, her sister Gabriella Goritsas, 8, Jacqueline Rodriguez, 8, and Aloura Hinzo, 9, perform during the After School Enrichment musical theatre class at Cordata Elementary in Bellingham, Wednesday, June 7. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Classes are out for the day at Bellingham’s Cordata Elementary School, but students enrolled in after-school clubs are still busy all around the building.

In one room, about a dozen youngsters are building things with wood, using rasps, clamps, jigsaws and sandpaper, as volunteers supervise.

In the gym, students are playing volleyball. Another group is outdoors, exploring the nature reserve around the building, identifying plants and insects and learning about ecosystems. Still more students are putting on a song-and-dance program for parents. And arts club members are making sock puppets.

In public schools all over Bellingham and Whatcom County, a varied menu of after-school activities is available for youngsters. Some are organized by school staffers. A variety of non-profit organizations also have robust programs: The Whatcom Family YMCA has programs in all Bellingham elementary schools, as well as some schools in other county districts. After-school activities at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Whatcom County attracted more than 6,000 participants last year.

Working families can count on us.

Melinda Yost, Whatcom Family YMCA director of family enrichment

Besides providing the kids with fun and education, the clubs also provide busy parents with some extra time between morning drop-off and afternoon pickup.

That may be especially critical this fall, as families adjust to the new, earlier elementary school class schedule: Starting in fall 2017, Bellingham students begin class at 8 a.m. instead of 8:30, as in past years, and they are out of class at 2:30 p.m. instead of 3 p.m.

Interested parents and students who want to participate in school-organized clubs get information on how to participate at the start of the school year. The complete schedule of club activities organized by the schools, themselves, won’t be firm until October, after organizers find out how many students want to participate. Some proposed clubs may not get off the ground if there isn’t enough interest, while other clubs may not be able to accommodate all the students who want to join.

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Instructor Alex Brede shows Jacob Martinez, 5, how to use a hammer during the After School Enrichment woodworking class at Cordata Elementary in Bellingham, Wednesday, June 7. Philip A. Dwyer pdwyer@bhamherald.com

“We often have a wait list,” said Cecilia Goritsas, Cordata’s program coordinator.

Ann Nguyen, whose salary is paid by the federal Americorps program, has helped with club organizing at Cordata, mobilizing a group of volunteers from among parents, high school students and students from Western Washington University and Whatcom Community College.

“We really rely on volunteers to come help,” Nguyen said.

Cordata and Alderwood schools have enough lower-income families to qualify for federal financial assistance that helps cover the cost of club fees, bus transportation home after club activities are done and a snack.

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Instructor Danny Dang, left, tosses a volleyball for Taelur McClellan, 10, during the After School Enrichment volleyball class at Cordata Elementary in Bellingham, Wednesday, June 7. Philip A. Dwyer pdwyer@bhamherald.com

The Whatcom Family YMCA’s after-school programs operate in all Bellingham elementary schools until 6 p.m. Melinda Yost, the Y’s director of family enrichment, said the charge for this service is variable depending on how many days a week the child is in the program. Some families choose to use the program on early-release days only, to eliminate work conflicts on those days.

For families who qualify, state aid may cover all or part of the cost. For families who earn a little too much for the state assistance, the Y and the United Way have some additional money available to help defray costs.

It’s a vital service for many working parents. Yost said about 450 youngsters are enrolled.

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Kelani Okomunikini, 5, throws a sock puppet during a game at the After School Enrichment mixed media class at Cordata Elementary in Bellingham, Wednesday, June 7. Philip A. Dwyer pdwyer@bhamherald.com

“Working families can count on us,” Yost said. “There’s so many people struggling.”

The Y’s after-school programs take responsibility for the kids after classes are out, Yost added. Youngsters who enroll in the programs are expected to show up, and if they don’t, staffers track them down. That gives parents an added sense of security.

Yost stressed that the Y program is not babysitting. Participants get exercise and healthy snacks, as well as time to read and work on school assignments. Students in different grades will mingle, with older students helping the younger ones.

“I think one of the great benefits of our program is that the first-grader is in a group with fourth-graders,” Yost said. “I think it works really well.”

I think one of the great benefits of our program is that the first-grader is in a group with fourth-graders. I think it works really well.

Melinda Yost, Whatcom Family YMCA director of family enrichment

The Y also operates after-school programs at St. Paul’s Academy and at Nooksack, Kendall, Eagleridge, Skyline and Cascadia elementary schools outside the city, Yost said.

Jacqueline Brawley, spokeswoman for the Bellingham School District, said school staffers also are ready to help families adjust to the earlier class start time for elementary school students that takes effect this fall.

All elementary schools will have staff on hand to supervise students beginning at 7:30 a.m., Brawley said in an email.

More programs

Other options for after-school activities for elementary-aged students include:

▪  Boys and Girls Clubs of Whatcom County, with clubs in Bellingham, Ferndale, Lynden and Blaine.

▪  Hillcrest Kids, 1400 Larrabee Ave.

▪  The Firs, 4605 Cable St. Also a Christian-based program with transportation available from some schools.

▪  Kids’ World, a private daycare operation with two locations in Bellingham and one in Ferndale.

Check with the operators of these programs for details on fees, financial aid, hours and transportation options.

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