Wilton Continuing Education (WCE) has stepped in to help out Parks and Recreation after the “After School Enrichment” program for grades 3-8 at Comstock Community Center abruptly closed one week ago. That’s according to Emily Dowden, supervisor of the WCE program.
“They were shut down,” Dowden told GOOD Morning Wilton. “I think it’s related to ‘On School Road.’”
Dowden said that Parks & Rec. contacted the WCE coordinator, Dolores Tufariello, on Wednesday, Oct. 16, “to inquire if the Cider Mill Extended Day Program could accommodate their students.” Moving quickly, Tufariello and Dowden made the necessary arrangements, and by Monday, Oct. 21, those students who had been attending the Comstock program were enrolled in the Extended Day program at Cider Mill. Dowden called the transition “seamless.”
Without speculating about what happened or why the afterschool program at Comstock was shuttered, Dowden said she reached out to GMW.com when this happened because, “I want to tell the positive story. The kids [who were affected] had a place to go. It was really seamless and welcoming. The kids all seemed very, very happy. All of the families except for one came over, and I think they were happy, and we were happy that we could accommodate them.”
GMW.com emailed Parks & Rec for confirmation about events but did not receive a response. A question regarding whether the closure of the afterschool program was related to the same State Department of Public Health closure of “Miss Sharon’s On School Road” and lack of childcare licensing was not answered by press time, nor has there been a public announcement made by town officials.
According to Dowden, there were 12 students in grades 3-8 who were enrolled in the Parks & Rec-run after school aftercare program at Comstock. “One was a Middlebrook student who elected not to come. Everybody else who attends Cider Mill, and had gone to Comstock, they all came to us, no one went anywhere else.”
Fees to attend the Comstock program were less expensive than the WCE program, which is part of the Wilton Public School District; however, Dowden said, the lower fee will be honored by the district through December for those affected families.
“That’s how it was originally paid at Comstock. They did a ‘Fall’ session, and then a winter, then a spring session. Continuing Education does work out to be more expensive. It wasn’t apples to apples—we do so much more with the students. We’re in the school, we work in conjunction with the teachers, we bring responsive classroom approaches into our program, we have iPads and surface tablets, we have structured homework and reading time.”
Continuing Ed’s quality after school programming
The afterschool program at Cider Mill helps families with their various childcare needs after school hours. The students are under the care of teachers and aides who run a program that provides time for homework, study skills, recreation, crafts and exercise. Families have some flexibility on number of weekdays to enroll, as well as the ability to schedule music lessons and enrichment that happens on-site at Cider Mill. The children are supervised until their parents are able to pick them up by 6:30 p.m.
Dowden explained that through WCE, there are full-time instructors who work with the children. In addition, there are high school aides from the WHS early childhood development course who works with the kids all year. The students access technology and the Study Island website, and they also work with National Honor Society students from the high school.
Parents can enroll children as contract registrants with pro-rated tuition based on the number of days (1-5) per week , or arrange attendance on a drop-in basis (with 24 hours notice). Child care is also offered on shortened school days at conference time and at the end of the school year in June.
Teachers hired from “On School Road”
Because Wilton Continuing Education runs Cider Mill’s after school care program at the school, they’re fortunate to have plenty of available space—they utilize the school’s cafeteria, gym, classrooms and facilities. The issue is staffing. “We need a 1-to-10 ratio by the state, so all we have to do is comply with that.”
In a turn of better news, with the additional influx of students caused by Comstock’s program closure, Dowden said they hired one of the Comstock program’s employees, in order to keep the student-to-teacher ratio at required levels. “He was someone who lost his job, because I don’t know if they would have kept him on.”
She added that WCE had also hired another teacher affected by the closure of Miss Sharon’s ‘On School Road’ preschool program in September. “We hired her at the beginning of the year.”
There has been no information available about whether additional Parks & Rec programs would be affected. According to a statement released by First Selectman Bill Brennan at the Board of Selectman’s meeting last Monday night, Oct. 21, “Because the Comstock building presents many significant maintenance and structural issues, the Town recognizes that there will be future interruptions to the recreation programs that have been offered at this facility in the past. The ‘On School Road’ program, which had to be discontinued by order of the CT Department of Public Health, falls into this category and will not be re-established for the foreseeable future for safety and other reasons associated with the planned renovation process.”
Brennan made no specific mention of the cancelled after school program during the selectmen’s meeting, which was held the evening of the same day the Comstock kids transitioned to the WCE program.