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After-school options evaluated for Munger

January 4, 2019

Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation staffers aren’t quite sure what to make of low enrollment at their Munger Mountain after-school program. It can take up to 75 students but so far, program manager Andy Fleck said, participation is hovering around 25 and “slowly increasing.”

That doesn’t fit the trend of after-school programs, and day care, bursting at the seams in Jackson. Spots are coveted in various child care options when kids are too young to be at school or when parents need a stopgap between the end of the school and work days. Parents set alarms to hit registration deadlines and sometimes end up on waiting lists for months.

For comparison, Fleck’s offering at Jackson Elementary School tends to be double the number of kids, about 50 per day. Fleck said his organization works with “partners who provide fun recreational and education programming” — like the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum, the Cougar Fund, the Historical Society and Wyoming Stargazing — and at $12 a day it’s a fairly reasonable option for working parents.

Historically, the programs used to be at capacity. That was when they were offered at Colter and Jackson elementary schools and could handle 70 to 75 students total. The system was modified when the need was identified and the number of available spots doubled.

“We increased our capacity but we have less utilization than we did last year,” said Steve Ashworth, Parks and Rec director.

The feedback he’s hearing from parents, Ashworth said, is that after-school programs at Munger aren’t convenient for families.

“The parents may live in East Jackson, and they don’t want to drive all the way down to Munger to pick their children up,” he said. “They’d rather go to the Rec Center or Jackson Elementary.”

Munger is about 9 miles south of Jackson. Given where parents work — usually Teton Village or the town — and the amount of traffic on the roads when parents get off work and need to fetch their children between 6 and 6:30 p.m., “it’s just not convenient,” Ashworth said.

Parks and Rec after-school programs already saw some adjustments earlier this school year. At first parents had to sign up in weeklong blocks. That was intended to make sure those who needed a full-week option weren’t left out in the cold by certain days filling up quicker than others. But that wasn’t a perfect solution, Ashworth said.

“As you make it better for one demographic, it’s complicated for the other demographic,” he said.

The second session of the year was changed back to an a la carte model once full-week families had first crack.

“We found a little bit better utilization, but not what we’ve had in the past,” Ashworth said.

One option Ashworth and Fleck are considering is moving the Munger program back to Colter for the third session of the year, beginning in February. That may seem simple on the surface, he said, but complicating factors quickly come into play.

“It’s not a quick, easy fix,” he said. “We’re having some conversations, but we don’t have any aha moment. We’re trying to think, ‘Is there something we could tweak?’”

For one, transportation. Teton County School District No. 1’s activity bus is full, and Parks and Rec doesn’t have the staff or the resources to get into the busing business. Second, Colter already has several school, community and sports programs that take up the bulk of the school.

“To have a predictable and usable space within the school has always been problematic,” Ashworth said. “So our program would keep getting bumped around or moved around, and consistency is the key for parents in after school.”

Despite some initial conversations, nothing is changing at Munger just yet. Ashworth said Parks and Rec is used to being flexible. With the school being new, he said, there are going to be some “growing pains.”

“We’re one of the main providers of affordable, traditional after-school programs,” he said. “There are other folks that are, too, but we’ve been doing it since the early ’90s, so we’ve been in this business, so to speak, for a long time

“We’ve seen evolutions, growth and changes to the schools. There’s solutions out there to make the program more accessible. We certainly don’t have the answer yet, but we’ll keep plugging away.”

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