<span class='image-credits'>Phil Eich</span>

It takes a community to run an after school program

Mt. Pleasant’s after-school and summer program is going above and beyond simply providing childcare for working families - it’s teaching kids about the importance of giving back to the community that makes the program possible.

 

The Beginning

 

In 2001, Mt. Pleasant began offering a free after-school program to the community through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

 

For five years the program ran successfully under that umbrella, but eventually the grant ended. Community leaders had a choice: let an invaluable program go the way of the grant or come together to figure out a way to keep it running long into the future.

 

“The program needed funding, but we also wanted to keep it affordable for families. We’re not meant to be a money-maker, and if we were, we would be charging too much,” says Mary LaChance, PEAK’s Program Coordinator.

 

It was this need for a sustainable yet affordable after-school and summer program, that spurred the community partnerships that make PEAK a success today. The school board, principals, and other community leaders saw that in order for such a program to be successful, everyone needed to be involved, and they set out to build those relationships.

 

“‘PEAK’ stands for Partners Empowering All Kids, because we wanted to emphasize that this program had to be a partnership,” says LaChance. “It couldn’t just be the city of Mt. Pleasant, or just the schools. It couldn’t just be one place doing it, and that’s how the partnerships with the schools and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe came about.” Along with those partnerships, PEAK also receives sponsorships from United Way and Isabella Bank in order to operate.

Two boys draw at PEAK after school

 

Teaming Up to Keep Costs Low

 

PEAK’s partnership with the school system allows the use of gyms, playgrounds, cafeterias, and even classrooms to provide services. LaChance says this partnership is critical to the program’s success because it allows them to offer the program at an affordable rate.

 

“Facility space is a huge expense, and without the schools allowing us to use their buildings we wouldn’t be able to run the program,” she says.

 

Operating in all seven Mt. Pleasant public schools, as well as Renaissance Academy, PEAK offers both summer and after-school programs. PEAK has a regular tuition rate, as well as a scholarship tuition rate for any family that qualifies for free or reduced lunch.

 

For all six weeks of their summer camp program, families that qualify for a scholarship pay only $200.

 

LaChance says that keeping the cost of the program low helps families directly, but also benefits the greater community. “The scholarship is for those working families where their only other option would be to quit work because they can’t afford to send their kids to daycare. It encourages people in the community to continue to work because this program makes it worth it.”

 

The program also keeps its costs low for families through the activities and lessons they provide. “We found that kids don’t need fancy toys and crafts. We go under budget every year with supplies. Our playgrounds are really nice - we should be doing stuff outside during the summer!”

Students play soccer at PEAK after school

 

A Day in the Life of a PEAK Kid

 

During the school year, kids are dismissed from class and then walk to the site where PEAK is operating. They're provided a healthy snack and some free time outdoors, and then have academic time to complete homework. After that, kids participate in crafts or play in the gym. During the summer, programming is offered all day, and includes fields trips.

 

While every activity is planned in advance, LaChance is careful to ensure the program allows “kids to be kids.”

 

“There are moments where we’re unstructured, but I think that’s important. I think some kids now are so structured that they forget how to play with each other. With our unstructured time, there is a method behind it. For example, when they go outside, I tell my staff to play with them but don’t guide the games, because the social lessons during those times are just as important as the academic ones they learn during lessons.”

 

With around 350 kids enrolled during the summer, and 150 during the school year, PEAK’s staff consists of 35 to 45 Program Assistants, mostly comprised of students from Central Michigan University.

 

“I’m also so fortunate that CMU is here as most of my staff are students at Central, and it would be so hard to run this program without them. During the school year, the program only offers staff two to two and half hours of work a day, and most people out of college aren’t looking for a job like that. Luckily I have these great college students who are so fun and willing to mentor, and a lot of them are going into elementary education so it’s great experience for their future careers.”

A PEAK student colors with pencils

 

The Next Generation of Community Partners

 

Because of PEAK’s emphasis on community partnerships, LaChance works hard to teach kids that they’re community partners, too.

 

“We really put an emphasis on kids giving back to the community. These kids are our future, so we need to teach them to love the community and take care of each other,” she says.

 

This year, PEAK ran a food drive, with the kids canvassing neighborhoods, making fliers and leaving bags for residents to donate items.

 

“It was hard work, and so much fun. It was amazing how much was given - we had over 1100 items donated.”

 

Along with the food drive, PEAK kids also cleaned up a local park and ran a penny war that resulted in $1600 being donated to the United Way. Program Assistants also walk with the kids downtown, as well as take them to the farmer’s market and spray park.

 

Their community outreach also carries a personal touch. This past school year, they started a pen-pal program with a local nursing home. Every Friday, PEAK’s Kindergarten group would write notes for the staff to deliver to nursing home residents. While there, the staff would pick up notes from the residents to take back to the kids.

 

“By the end, these sweet grandmas and grandpas were making little stuffed animals for our kids,” LaChance says, “and on the last day we went and visited them at the nursing home and read with them. The kindergartners were reading to the residents, and the residents were reading to the kindergartners. It was the sweetest thing ever.”

 

While PEAK kids are learning about how to complete the circle of support within the community, LaChance wants to emphasize that the support they’ve received so far has been what has made the program a success.

 

“We’re so lucky here in Mt. Pleasant. If it wasn’t for everyone’s support, we wouldn’t exist.

Without our partnerships, we couldn’t operate. Our City Manager has been so supportive of this program, and the principals and teachers are so accommodating. The janitors are so nice, are so good with the kids, and they know them by name.

 

"PEAK is such an important part of Mt. Pleasant and these kids’ lives, and I think everyone realizes that it's something that’s needed in this community.”

 
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