Pendleton residents want an after-school program, and the city and local school districts are prepared to give it to them.

The Pendleton Parks and Recreation Department, Pendleton School District, and InterMountain Education Service District are planning to collaborate on a new after-school program that’s expected to start during the 2019-20 school year.

Parks and Recreation Director Liam Hughes said he met with school officials shortly after he started with the city last February. They told him that there was a strong community need for an after-school program.

That need was confirmed when the department-commissioned survey showed that 54 percent of respondents considered an after-school program for elementary school students “very important.” Combined with the respondents who labeled an after-school program “somewhat important,” 86 percent of survey takers voiced their desire for the program.

Hughes started meeting with leaders from the Pendleton School District and the IMESD. Under the current plan, the parks and recreation department would provide staffing for the program while the Pendleton School District would provide the facilities at Washington Elementary School, Sherwood Heights Elementary School, McKay Creek Elementary School, and the Pendleton Early Learning Center.

Pendleton Superintendent Chris Fritsch said the program would likely reside in the schools’ cafeterias or gyms.

IMESD Superintendent Mark Mulvihill said the service district has assigned its director of instructional service, Eric Volger, to craft a curriculum. The program’s sponsors envision after-school sessions, including a structured physical activity, snacks, and a rotating schedule of STEM, art and music activities.

Mulvihill said the idea is to avoid hours of free play while making sure that students don’t view it as another source of schoolwork.

“We want to make it a fun, interactive experience,” he said.

The three agencies still have other details to sort out. Although the survey asked respondents if they would support an after-school program from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Hughes said the exact hours have yet to be determined. And although the parks and recreation department is committed to hiring new “boots on the ground” to staff each site, Hughes said the exact staffing level will also need to be determined.

Hughes said the program has flexibility in its staffing levels because it’s operated by public entities, but he would want it at similar staff-to-child ratios as child care centers.

The city expects about 100 students in the program’s first year.

“We want to be a quality program,” he said. “We don’t want to be a warehouse that houses kids.”

The city plans to charge parents $8 per day to offset staffing costs, but Hughes admitted that low-income families may have trouble paying for tuition.

If a student attended all 170 school days when the after-school program was offered, it would cost a parent $1,360 per year.

About 55 percent of the Pendleton School District’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and Hughes expects a similar amount will need financial assistance to pay for tuition.

Pendleton Parks and Recreation recently received a $5,000 grant for after-school program supplies from Cycle Oregon, the guided bicycle ride nonprofit that came through Pendleton in September.

But Hughes said one of the bigger costs will be establishing a scholarship fund to pay tuition for students who can't afford the program. He wants to bolster the fund with the Wild West Beer Fest, a June 22 craft beer festival fundraiser.

The IMESD is also providing grant writing services to find additional revenue to support the program.

Note: The article was corrected to properly reflect what the Cycle Oregon grant would pay for. 

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