Seeking After-School Solutions

The complex and limited options for after-school care in Lexington

Parents who work outside of the home understand the dilemma. Unless they have flexible work hours, there is a continual effort to bridge that gap between when school ends and when they can arrive home. Many are perplexed by the limited after-school child care offerings with some towns faring better than others.

“One of the reasons we came to Lexington was for the variety of after-school programs that were available and accessible by bus transportation,” says Denise Bandaru, a Lexington mother of two children. “Our previous town only offered two after-school programs that were accessible by bus, one of which had an extensive waitlist, such that if your child did not get in during Kindergarten, their chances of enrollment were slim.”

Lexington offers several after-school care programs that are accessible by school bus. The primary programs are the traditional Lextended Day program, Hayden After School, which has a sports focus, the Russian School of Mathematics, and Empow Studios, which offers hands-on technology training. The challenge is that parents have found Lextended Day fills up within days of registration and parents are often left with few options for students in 6th grade and up.

“Empow Studios is one of the few after-school care programs in Lexington that extends its program to Middle School students,” notes Bandaru. “Hayden and Lextended Day stop at 5th grade. As a mom, it is comforting to know that my son has a safe, supervised option for next year.”

“Lexington has an ever-growing need for after-school programs, especially enrichment programs,” says Matt Silverstein, Program Director at Empow Studios. “What I’ve seen with the students who come here is that regardless of whether they are already really into technology or they’ve never been introduced to it before, they end up getting excited about coding, building and designing.”

A Time to Achieve

Busy parents often take advantage of any after-school programs they can access, though many are selective. “I look for programs that offer more than basic ‘babysitting services,’ says Bandaru. “Since I require after-school care five days a week, my focus is on programs that will provide some academic stimulation and not just supervised play time.”

Now that her son is 11-years-old, Bandaru is especially aware of keeping him challenged. “When we moved to Lexington, he did a week of summer camp at Empow and absolutely loved it,” she notes. “This year, during Empow’s after-school program, my son has learned Unity programming, Raspberry Pi programming and has expanded upon his individual collection of Scratch programs. He also gained valuable team building skills by participating on the Empowerers FIRST Lego League team.”

While she didn’t hesitate to enroll her son in Empow’s after-school program, Bandaru admits that she didn’t think her 9-year-old daughter would be interested. “What really surprised me, is how much my daughter loves coming to Empow,” she added. “I honestly thought that a technology program would be a hard sell to her because, prior to Empow, her interest in technology only went as far as playing on her iPad. However, I have seen her enthusiasm and interest in technology grow this past year since enrolling. She is so proud of her animations and 3D printing creations. She has gained the confidence she needed to start programming with Scratch, which is a skill she previously felt was beyond her reach.”

Expanding Options

Empow Studios is a licensed provider of childcare through the department of Early Education and Care, and recently expanded and renovated its space in Lexington. “Not only are we now able to make our program available to more families, the new layout creates much more working space for kids while improving supervision,” notes Silverstein. “We’ve also taken steps to enhance security, including a new video monitoring system.”

There are also constant new additions to the tech toys and the curriculum. “We’re always on the lookout for cool, fun products that let the kids get creative with technical tools no matter what their interests are,” says Empow Studios Founder Leonid Tunik. “We’ve recently added a DJ turntable, Virtual Reality headset, MIDI keyboards, a new-generation 3D printer, circuit kits, and programmable toys. We’ve also been expanding our library of projects and challenges, which we find is a perfect motivator for learning.”

Video of Teacher, Elise Jansson, of Empow Studios showing the kids a new gadget.

“What impresses me the most about Empow is that it is not a ‘one size fits all’ curriculum or activity,” says Bandaru. “Each student participates and progresses at their own pace and interest level. It reminds me very much of a Montessori classroom.”

Bandaru is also looking to Empow Studios to teach her son how to broaden his role as a leader. “Not only does my incoming Middle Schooler have an opportunity to continue strengthening his own technology skills, but he will have the opportunity to learn one of the most valuable skills going – how to be a mentor to the younger kids,” adds Bandaru who marvels at her children’s’ increasing attachment to the program and teachers. “I have to drag them out of the building every pick up,” she laughs.

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