The Wilton Public School district offers an after school childcare program for students enrolled at Miller-Driscoll and Cider Mill Schools through Wilton Continuing Education, and it’s a popular–and much needed–option for many families with working parents. However, it’s an option where demand far exceeds availability, as was the case this week when registration for the 2019-2020 school year program opened at midnight on Monday, May 20, and filled up in under an hour–leaving many families scrambling to find an alternative.
The registration number is limited due to available space constraints. Continuing Education does run a waiting list, and spots often open up as families’ plans change between registration and the start of the school year. But crossing fingers and hoping a spot becomes available isn’t something many families are able to do when plans need to be in place.
Several parents sought out other options but choices in Wilton are limited–after school childcare is offered at the Wilton Family Y but there too, demand exceeds the space capability, especially with the facility under construction limiting what the YMCA can offer.
Parents took to social media to vent their frustrations. A running thread on the closed Working Moms of Wilton Facebook group page revealed the stress so many people felt about the registration process and being shut out of the program. Many compared it to being online to buy concert tickets, staying up late and repeatedly refreshing the website to try and secure a spot. Others looked at it as a need that wasn’t being met and a lack of understanding about the demographic changes, with more families with two working parents living in town.
GOOD Morning Wilton received a letter to the editor from resident Katherine McCabe that summed up the situation:
To the Editor:
In 2013, our family moved to Wilton, like so many in our town, for its schools. With one child now in second grade and another starting kindergarten in the fall, we have so far been impressed by the teachers, curriculum, and technology offered through the Wilton district. However, we continue to be frustrated by how few resources are offered by the town and schools to meet the needs of families with, like the majority of Americans, two working parents.
This week marked registration for after school care for the 2019-20 school year. Wilton Continuing Ed opened at midnight Monday. All available regular and drop-in spots for both elementaries were reserved before the first morning bus pulled into Cider Mill that day. At the Y, after care for grades 3-6 was full before registration ever opened to new students; at midnight Wednesday only five spots were offered to children in K-2 and were full by 12:02 a.m. (I know, because I was one of the many who set a middle-of-the-night alarm and was refreshing the registration page like mad at 11:59 p.m.)
With an elementary population of at least 1,500 in the town, how is it possible so few options exist for regular after school child care? Between Continuing Ed, YMCA, and the fantastic Create Learning Center, I’d guess there are places for not more than 15% of our town’s students. In 2019 it is disheartening and unrealistic to expect so many—let’s face it—mothers to not be at work during weekday afternoons. No wonder Connecticut has an above average gender pay gap, with an even larger gap for mothers! (See: Connecticut’s Gender Pay Gap Among Worst in Nation)
Working parents need not only reliable, everyday care, but care that is accessible directly from school with bus drop-offs and until at least 6 p.m. When will Wilton catch up to our neighboring towns and offer child care options that support 21st century families?
In addition to reaching out to school administrators, several parents contacted First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice. She and Parks and Recreation director Steve Pierce moved to find a solution that would help provide some alternative. She posted a notice on Facebook on Wednesday:
“In response to demand, Wilton Parks and Recreation Director Steve Pierce is in the process of developing an after school program at Comstock for the upcoming school year. He is meeting with Wilton mothers within the next two weeks to discuss the types of activities parents would like to have, i.e. homework assistance, recreation, combination etc. If you are interested in attending or want to email suggestions, please contact Steve at Steve.Pierce@wiltonct.org.”
Create Learning Center, another popular childcare program in Wilton run by Sharon Cowley, has also announced it will provide available after school program spots. Although Create is an independently owned business, Cowley says Create will work in conjunction with Wilton Continuing Education to find placement for anyone who needs after school childcare options (Create online or call 203.762.6161).