0212_dnr_After school care_

Pleasant Valley Elementary School third-graders Saleen Shifflett, left, Stella Hughes, center, and Haley Missal joke around while having a snack during an after-school care program run by the Rockingham County Parks and Recreation Department in February 2019.

Rockingham County has discontinued its after-school program for the upcoming school year, an initiative it has provided for more than 25 years.

On Tuesday, Stephen King, county administrator, and Kirby Dean, director of parks and recreation, confirmed the after-school programming would not exist this year due to a staff shortage.

“We’re disappointed,” Dean said.

The program would have been offered at nine county elementary schools: McGaheysville, Cub Run, Peak View, John C. Myers, Lacey Spring, John Wayland, Ottobine, Pleasant Valley and Mountain View. According to the county website, all locations except for Pleasant Valley and Lacey Spring were at capacity.

Of the 50 employees registered to work an after-school program, only five were outside the high school and college age group, Dean said. He said the younger workers did a good job, but some situations required an experienced employee to handle situations that would arise at a child care facility.

“I hate that we’re not able to offer it,” Dean said, but noted that with the lack of staff, the county could not safely and adequately run the program.

Families impacted by the cancellation were notified Monday, King said. He said 270 elementary-age students were registered for the program, scheduled to begin Aug. 24. Families were also sent an email last week informing them of that it could be possible the program would be canceled.

“We’re not happy about it ... but that’s the reality of it,” King said.

King said it would be “premature” to identify any solutions for after-school programming through the county this year, or if the program would be picked up next year. The county informed the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County about the situation, and identified employees who could be eligible to work for the organization.

The county’s after-school program was completely operated by the Rockingham County Parks and Recreation Department. It was independent from the county’s school system, but did use the division’s facilities under an agreement. Dean said RCPS did everything it could to help, but the county “never got that bump in applications.”

“If you don’t have the people, you don’t have the people,” he said.

Dean said the county recruited prospective employees by job postings on social media and the county’s website, as well as “physically going out to sites” like local high schools, Bridgewater College and Eastern Mennonite University during the spring to talk to interested individuals. County officials also approached school personnel to staff the sites.

Last year, 286 students participated in the program. Dean said it was a “balancing act” to ensure staffing last year, which also required full-time county employees to help operate the programs when needed. County staff was willing to do that again this year, but it would not have made a difference because the program would have been so understaffed, he said.

Full refunds will be processed as quickly as possible. A $50 registration fee was required for all participants, and the monthly fee was $150.

“I’m an optimist ... but at the 11th hour, the numbers just weren’t there,” Dean said.

Contact Kellen Stepler at 574-6279 or kstepler@dnronline.com | Follow Kellen on Twitter at @KellenStepler

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