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Principals' Group Issues Standards for School-Based Child Care

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A report by the National Association of Elementary School Principals lays out standards for the growing number of school-based child-care programs for students.

The recommendations, published last month, reflect a heightened recognition among principals of the need for schools to help insure that children are in safe, supervised settings before and after school. It was prepared by the N.A.E.S.P. and the Wellesley College School-Age Child Care Project with support from several foundations.

As the numbers of families with two parents working and of children in single-parent homes have expanded, the report says, "principals have become increasingly concerned as children arrive at school too early in the morning, linger after school, or walk to empty homes or apartments, sometimes through dangerous neighborhoods.''

A federal report earlier this year found that 1.7 million children in kindergarten through grade 8 were enrolled in "extended day'' programs, about a third of which were based in public schools. (See Education Week, March 3, 1993.)

While more and more principals are assuming leadership in starting such programs or working with community groups to provide them, said Susan O'Connor, a project associate at the Wellesley project, the standards report "is a big step forward because principals and school staff are struggling with issues of quality.''

"They recognize that running a program and running a quality program are two different things,'' she said.

Ms. O'Connor drafted the report for the N.A.E.S.P. along with an advisory panel of principals.

A companion guide shows parents what to look for in before- and after-school programs.

Break From School Day

The standards report offers tips for starting school-age child-care programs, establishes 19 standards of excellence, and offers a checklist to gauge program quality.

It stresses that programs should offer children a break from the regular school day, shifting the focus from "academics and achievement to recreation and socialization.''

"We emphasize that this is not to be understood as extending the school day,'' said Samuel G. Sava, the executive director of the N.A.E.S.P. The key elements, he said, should be safety, adequate supervision, and an ample range of activities, from recreation to homework help.

Other quality indicators include:

  • Seeking out staff members who are skilled and show "warmth'' in working with school-age children;
  • Meeting staff-child ratios of one to 10 for children under 6 and one to 12 for those over 6;
  • Offering cozy, welcoming, and organized indoor spaces and safe and well-equipped outdoor areas;
  • Providing activities to interest children of all ages and letting them choose and initiate projects;
  • Supplying nutritious snacks;
  • Prohibiting discrimination; and
  • Promoting communication between school and extended-day personnel and parents.

Linda Chapman, who chaired the review panel for the report, noted that some principals are still reluctant to take on what they see as an "extra duty.''

But the report stresses that schools need not run the programs, but can collaborate or contract with other providers to offer services at or near schools.

"This is another service we can help provide that's needed,'' said Ms. Chapman, a former principal and now a school administrator in the Pike Township school district in Indianapolis. Her district uses a private vendor to offer before- and after-school care in a number of schools.

Schools can also help just by providing rent-free space or helping transport children to other providers, Ms. O'Connor said.

N.A.E.S.P. members will get free copies of "Standards for Quality School-Age Child Care'' this fall. Additional copies are available, at $14.95 each for members and $19.95 for nonmembers, from the N.A.E.S.P., Educational Products, 1615 Duke St., Alexandria, Va. 22314-3483.

Single copies of the guide for parents, "The Right Place,'' are available for $3 each from the N.A.E.S.P.; bulk rates are also available.

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