When Megan Woodward worked at Orchard Ridge Elementary, she remembers students crying and wanting to come inside because they got too cold on the playground after school in the winter.
“I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, they can’t be cold outside,’” Woodward said. “These babies need (some) boots and snow pants and things to borrow so they can play and have fun when they’re at school.”
It prompted Woodward, who was the director of the Madison School and Community Recreation afterschool program at Orchard Ridge, to apply for a grant from the Friends of MSCR so she could buy some winter gear students could borrow.
When Woodward was assigned to run an all-day program this fall at Henderson Elementary School, she knew the children would be spending more time than normal outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So she applied for another Friends of MSCR grant and received $1,115 to purchase winter clothing, such as snow pants and gloves, and play equipment, including sleds and tools to build igloos.
Now Henderson has a selection of items that students can borrow, which are then washed and put back in the inventory.
“It is no fun to be cold and wet outside,” said Woodward, Henderson’s site director for the MSCR Cares program.
The Henderson playground bumps up to Edna Taylor Conservation Park, and there is a small hill on the playground that works for sledding.
“We love it. Oh my goodness, it keeps everyone so busy,” Woodward said.
The students at Henderson, formerly Glendale Elementary, are part of the MSCR Cares program at 16 elementary schools and the Allied Learning Center. The full-day child care program was developed after the success of Cares Camps this summer at eight elementary schools.
About 650 students in kindergarten through fifth grade are enrolled in the program across the sites, and there is a waiting list. Online learning through the students’ schools takes place in the morning. The afternoon is spent outside or doing art projects and science, technology, engineering and math activities.
“It’s fun,” said Mila LorThao, a second-grader who attends Henderson.
She said she likes drawing and crafts and a science activity where eggs were turned into bouncy balls by placing them in vinegar.
Ethan McCool, a third-grader at Henderson, and Marcus Pratt, a third-grader at Schenk Elementary, said they miss regular classes.
“I haven’t seen friends in a long time,” Marcus said.
But Marcus, Ethan and Adriana Ortiz, a second-grader at Kennedy Elementary, said they have friends in the Cares program at Henderson.
“Kids are happy because they get to be around people and their friends,” Woodward said. “It has made me glad we are able to serve families.”
Supporting students in their online learning has gotten easier over time as Cares staff developed relationships with the children’s teachers, said Mary Roth, operations manager for MSCR. But one of the challenges was working with kindergartners who were new to school and had trouble logging in when they didn’t know their letters.
“It was a steep learning curve for participants and it was a steep learning curve for staff,” Roth said.
Ten more children have been added since winter break at Henderson, as teachers are letting families know about Cares.
The program established protocols during the pandemic, such as mask wearing while indoors, not mixing groups of students and doing health screenings at the start of each day. The program was shut down as a precaution for certain periods after Thanksgiving and winter break, and other closures have occurred.
“We’ve been able to quickly isolate and trace any exposure issues,” Roth said. “It’s generally gone really well. We’ve been pleased.”
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