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YMCA of Columbia-Willamette plans to start an after-school program at Otto Petersen Elementary this fall.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - Otto Petersen is the planned location for a YMCA after-school program in Scappoose.The YMCA is planning to offer an after-school program in Scappoose this fall.

The program will be hosted at Otto Petersen Elementary School and will accept students from kindergarten through the sixth grade.

The YMCA of Columbia-Willamette, the local branch of the global Christian youth organization, put out a survey to gauge interest in the after-school program.

Of nearly 300 responses, about three in four parents said they would be interested in signing their kids up for the program, according to David Parker, director of the western region of the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette.

The program will begin with the start of school, meaning the YMCA has less than a month to hire staff and finalize agreements with the Scappoose School District.

The program will run every school day during the 2022-23 school year, from the end of the school day to 6 p.m.

The YMCA was initially aiming to enroll 30 kids in the program, but the response from the survey shows there's demand for more spaces.

The number of slots in the program will depend on how many people the YMCA is able to hire — maintaining a 1-to-15 ratio of instructors to students — and what Otto Petersen has the space for, Parker said.

"It's definitely on our radar to explore and pursue (more spaces) if we have the opportunity to," Parker said.

Many child care, pre-kindergarten and after-school programs are having a tough time hiring enough teachers and other workers to meet demand. The YMCA of Columbia-Willamette is no exception, as Parker acknowledged.

"With the way things are right now, staff recruiting is kind of tough," Parker said. "But I think this is a really cool opportunity for the kids in the community, but also, on the other side of that, creating some job opportunities for people who are passionate about developing kids and working with kids."

The program may start out with limited spots at the beginning of the school year and expand as staffing increases, Parker said.

The program would cost $340 per month for YMCA members and $380 for non-members. Financial assistance is also available, the YMCA survey noted.

The Scappoose School District and YMCA are getting some help from City Hall, which committed $9,000 of Scappoose's allocation from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to help the program get off the ground.

The after-school program uses curriculum from the national YMCA program. Each day of the week will have a different theme — Monday could be history, Tuesday could be cooking, Friday could be fitness, Parker said, tossing out some examples.

"Each day, the kids are getting something different. It's not just the same thing over and over, day after day," Parker said.

"We want to be intentional about the impact that we're having, and intentional about the things that we're teaching these kids," he added.

Survey respondents were able to provide their contact information to receive more information as plans are solidified, but Parker said communication will also go out through the school district to alert families in advance of registration opening.

Prior to the pandemic, the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette operated more than 50 child care and after-school enrichment programs around the region, which also includes Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties, chief executive officer Tyler Wright said.

After-school enrichment programs differ from typical child care programs in that they do not have to be licensed in Oregon. The YMCA is now trying to expand after-school enrichment offerings throughout its service area.

The YMCA of Columbia-Willamette hasn't had a physical presence in Columbia County, at least in recent years.

But in recent years, the YMCA has realized that "there are areas in our service area that we would like to engage a little bit more with," Wright said.

Parker said he and the YMCA are excited "to be able to develop something in this new community."

Parker added, "I think there's a lot of opportunities for the Y to help serve not just kids, but just serve the community as a whole. And I see this as a good starting point for us and going nowhere but up from here."

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