Waiting lists, anxious parents: St. Louis-area schools need more aftercare workers | Education

Sara Newberry has a habit of waking up at 4 a.m. on a specific day every summer to stand in line and register for after-school care for her children in the Maplewood Richmond Heights School District.

The strategy has always been successful — until this year.

“I was shocked. And then, as the conversations started in the moms groups, it seemed like everyone was getting turned down,” Newberry said. “A lot of people are worried about where our kids will go and how. preserve our jobs if we don’t have a follow-up.”

Almost all schools offer before and after care programs because parents’ work schedules don’t fit the typical 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day. Programs, which are usually fee-based, can be staffed in-house or through a contractor such as the YMCA.

With pay as low as $11 an hour and an average of four hours a day, jobs have always been hard to fill. But during the pandemic, retirees or other workers with flexible hours, such as students, have been reluctant to take low-paying jobs due to potential exposure to COVID-19. The labor shortage has not eased.

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Staffing remains the biggest challenge for before/after programs in schools, which also struggle to fill several other non-teaching positions.

More than half of afterschool programs have waitlists this year, a 46% increase from 2021, according to the Washington-based nonprofit Afterschool Alliance.

Unlike teaching positions, which are harder to fill in urban and rural districts, suburban schools are hardest hit by shortages of follow-up staff, according to the group’s surveys.

At the end of July, 174 children from Maplewood Richmond Heights were placed on waiting lists for the Discover Club child care program in preschool and elementary school. Newberry, a freelance massage therapist, and another mother created a co-op of 78 parents to find and trade shifts in transportation and childcare.

Meanwhile, the district opened applications to high school students and offered jobs to current school support staff at $25 an hour, among other incentives. As of Friday, six additional workers had been hired and the district emailed a number of lucky families who were taken off the wait list, including Newberry’s.

Maplewood Richmond Heights spokesman Ed Rich did not disclose the number of students still on the list.

“We are grateful to all the families for their patience as we strive to preserve this most important community service,” he wrote in a recent email to parents.

Other area schools are also reporting staffing shortages and waiting lists, just 10 days before the start of the school year. Some have implemented new hiring methods to deal with the shortage:

• Gateway Science Academy charter school in St. Louis offered before/after slots to 70 of the 120 students who applied.

• Last month, dozens of families were put on a waiting list for the Webster Groves School District’s before and after care program, Adventure Club, due to a staff shortage. The district has since made hiring, but some schools still have waiting lists, according to a spokesperson.

• At least five Catholic schools are still trying to hire pre/post staff, according to the Archdiocese of St. Louis website.

In several school districts, including Affton, Ladue, Northwest and Webster Groves, high school students are eligible for child care assistant positions. Ladue also opened the jobs to students from outside the district for the first time this year. St. Louis public school teachers can get $30 an hour to stay working in the aftercare program. Last year, they were offered an hourly rate of $40 for overtime.

The pandemic has only exacerbated long-standing staffing shortages in education. A group of school leaders from across the state met earlier this month and agreed their biggest concern was filling jobs, said Doug Hayter, executive director of the Missouri Association of School Administrators. .

“It’s more pronounced than what we’ve seen in a few years. Most cited non-teaching positions – bus drivers, paraprofessionals, caretakers, food service workers,” Hayter said.

School job fairs, usually held in the spring to fill positions for the following year, are now held year-round with on-site interviews. The Riverview Gardens School District in northern St. Louis County, which has 107 teaching vacancies and 97 support staff vacancies, holds job fairs every Thursday in August, including the first week of school.

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