The 50,000 students in Portland Public Schools get the same math curriculum. More or less the same English, social studies and science, too.
Elementary school students attend school the same number of days and hours, whether they attend Woodlawn in Northeast Portland or Maplewood in Southwest Portland.
But when it comes to what happens after school at PPS’s 57 elementary and K-8 schools, the opportunities differ vastly.
Some kids have a wide choice in what they can do after school, while others have few options. A student at Richmond, where 3.6 percent of the population is considered “economically disadvantaged,” can take yoga or coding on campus or get picked up by bus to go learn archery with Trackers Earth. At other schools, where students come from less privileged backgrounds, there might be half as many choices.
The discrepancy in after-school programming was highlighted earlier this year, when PPS discontinued an electronic flier distribution program called Peachjar that had been criticized for targeting wealthier parents and ignoring poorer students.
“I had a friend up in Alameda, and she was telling me, ‘I get swamped with these (fliers,)’” says Grout Elementary School parent Angela Gillette. “And I was getting one to two a month.”
Gillette did some research, and found that more Peachjar fliers advertising programs like soccer and musical theater were going to parents at schools with higher-income families.
“I figured out what’s a high-income school, and they’ve had 27 Peachjar emails. If you went to a lower-income school you could see that they had maybe two,” she said. “It bugged me that PPS was giving them the tool to do it.”
At Alameda, just 3.4 percent of students were considered “economically disadvantaged” in 2017-2018. At Grout, that number was 38 percent.
In March, PPS discontinued the Peachjar program. In a note sent to school email lists in January, PPS communications staff wrote, “There are inherent equity issues with regards to the communities targeted for events …. Perpetuating this disparity contradicts PPS’ focus on equity and excellence, ensuring every student and every school succeeds.”
But despite the emphasis on who’s allowed to distribute information, little has changed for what is being offered at each site. And working parents still need to figure out a plan for after-school care.
Licensed child care versus enrichment programs
PPS contracts with 14 licensed child care providers for before and after care in 51 schools, generally available every day after school. That’s different from the nonprofits and for-profit companies such as Mad Science or Soccer Shots that provide afters-school enrichment activities, usually as a once-a-week class.
Nancy Hauth, program manager for Early Learner Programs and Child Care at PPS, estimated that 3,500 PPS students are in licensed child care in or near PPS sites; many more participate in unlicensed programs like SUN (the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods community school program, managed by Multnomah County’s Department of County Human Services), gymnastics or another after-school activity.
“Does Portland Public look at it and say, ‘How come this school is offering 10 things and how do we even it out?’” Gillette asked.
The answer, district officials say, is no.
Independence is one reason that after-school activities are so different from school to school.
“Every school manages their own after-school options in different ways,” Hauth said.
Many reasons can result in a school with limited options, she said.
“That could be because of space and it could be because there are not enough families in the community who can participate or who can pay,” said Hauth. “Different schools have different needs.”
After-school care is a necessity, not a luxury, for working parents who don’t have family or friends living in the area who can care for kids after school lets out. (Another option is to pay for a sitter, which can be hard to find and can be less reliable.) Often, parents mishmash an art class one day, a soccer class the next, a playdate here and a homework club there.
“People are used to cobbling it together. I’m lucky because I have in-laws,” said Chapman Elementary School parent Helen Shum. “As a community, we rely on these private pieces. There’s a lot at Chapman, it’s just not run by the district. You do it on your own.”
There are some attempts to ensure that lower-income schools where parents can’t pay for a rich slate of after-school classes can nevertheless offer engaging program.
In particular, 39 PPS schools offer free or low-cost after-school programming through the SUN (Schools Uniting Neighborhoods) program, which is funded by Multnomah County. The SUN program, however, is not licensed child care; it is an anti-poverty strategy, and there aren’t always enough spaces to go around.
Which schools get SUN funding is determined in part by a complicated formula used by Multnomah County that takes into account poverty, racial demographics and other factors.
“We’re not the education institution — that’s the schools — but supporting families is in our lane of supporting success,” said Greg Belisle, Senior Program Specialist Youth and Family Services Division of Multnomah County.
Because different nonprofits such as IRCO and Impact NW run SUN programs at the schools, SUN classes range from yoga to study halls to ballet folklorico.
At Grout, where Gillette’s son goes to school, he can go to SUN for free but only for two days, where he has a computer class, ultimate Frisbee and art.
At Harrison Park, where 50 percent of students are considered “economically disadvantaged,” SUN programming is offered, but not on Fridays.
Other SUN sites have no limit on days, but parents pay to enroll. A school with
50 percent or more of students on free and reduced lunch is not allowed to charge fees.
And not everyone gets what they need.
At King Elementary School, SUN doesn’t start until first grade, and not everyone can get in.
“We don’t have enough spots for everyone who wants to access SUN,” said King principal Jill Sage. “It’s competitive.”
The school has nearly 400 students, and about a third of them are using SUN, King said.
Others go to the Boys & Girls Club on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard or use Peninsula Children’s Learning Center.
Other smaller programs have approached King to set up classes, but Sage said, “We get offers, but in general our families don’t have funds for extra activities.”
Sage, who has worked on equity issues in PPS, said using Peachjar fliers didn’t work the way the district wanted.
“I’m sure the intention was to open up these things,” said Sage. “There just hasn’t been an intentional, deliberate expectation of services. We allow each school to build things up or not.”
That, she said, can result in inequity.
“We do need to give more to historically underserved populations because they have been historically underserved,” said Sage.
For their part, after-school providers say they feel caught between wanting to serve a more diverse group of students and needing to be able to pay their teachers and make a living.
After-school providers react
When Peachjar first came to PPS in 2016, many after-school providers criticized it as too expensive for nonprofits and small businesses. Now that it is gone, though, they are left without a single reliable pipeline to reach new families, making it even more difficult to expand into more schools.
In Portland, Peachjar charged $25 per flier per school. To reach all 57 PPS elementary and K-8 schools, a company would be charged $1,425 to send one email.
Peachjar, which is doing business with schools in 38 states, said its service brings more equity to schools because parents have better access to school and community resources.
“Peachjar does not make any decisions regarding which materials are distributed to families or to which schools they are distributed to,” said Susan Le, marketing manager for Peachjar, in an email. “Community organizations decide which schools they would like to send to and Peachjar only delivers the fliers that the district approves.”
The district’s decision to quit Peachjar came with a new rule — no fliers will be distributed at PPS schools unless they are from PPS or another governmental organization such as the city of Portland, Multnomah County or Metro.
The change has left some after-school programs scrambling.
“It’s a real mess,” said Zayne Mayfield, executive director of EG Robotics, a company (now a nonprofit) that he built with his brothers. “We’re not very happy with what’s going on with it. We contacted the PPS ombudsman.”
Mayfield and his employees work in roughly 30 PPS schools, teaching robotics and electronics after school and doing programs for seventh grade career exploration.
Most schools where his classes are offered began with parents asking for the program. “A lot of it is word of mouth from parents,” Mayfield said. “Schools are so hard to get into if you don’t have a parent to advocate for you.”
Before Peachjar, Mayfield spent about $800 to advertise with paper fliers. When Peachjar took over, he said, his costs went up to over $4,000; he raised his prices to make up for the expense.
Mayfield said he met with a dozen other groups — including Mad Science, Northwest Children’s Theater and Soccer Shots — to figure a way out of the communications problem.
“I would like to see a culture change of saying ‘after-school is important,’ he said. “All the after-school providers feel like we are a burden or a hassle. How can we have a working relationship?”
Michel Hulsey, who runs Medium Cool Film School at five PPS schools, said he won’t be back to at least one PPS school this fall, and he’s already canceled his summer Rain or Shine Camp, because he can’t get enrollees without advertising through schools.
“Peachjar wasn’t cheap,” said Hulsey. “I didn’t love it, but it was something.”
Hulsey said he decided where to offer his film-making classes based on where he could get classroom space.
“It was more about who had availability for me,” said Hulsey. “I know schools get neglected.”
He spoke at a Portland Public Schools board of education meeting in December about his ideas for fixing disparities. To encourage more after-school options, he said, the district could waive school rental fees at schools that should have more diverse options.
“You know what one solution would be? Ask us to do it,” he said.
He emailed the board after speaking at the meeting, writing: “I’m completely baffled at how doing away with Peachjar will help resolve this issue since this doesn’t change where programs are offered.”
Hulsey said he got no reply.
Budgeting for After-school Care
How much for aftercare?
Depends on where your children go to school.
Almost all licensed providers charge a registration fee and separate prices for before- and after-school care.
SUN is free at some schools, and costs less than other child care providers at others.
Blazers Boys & Girls Club on NE MLK Boulevard charges $250 in membership fees for the school year for grades one through six.
Friendly House, which serves the Chapman neighborhood, offers a sliding scale based on income that ranges from $213 to $485 per month for five
days of aftercare.
Five days of aftercare at Duniway is $255 per month.
Five days of aftercare at Ainsworth, governed by a board of Ainsworth parents, runs $330 for the month.
YMCA, which operated at 11 PPS sites last year, charges $368 to $390 per month, depending on the site, for five days of aftercare.
Camp Fire Columbia operates after-care programs at 8 PPS schools. Five days of aftercare ranges from $388 to $409 per month.
Peninsula Children’s Learning Center provides care at Sabin Elementary School, Boise Eliot/Humboldt Elementary School, Faubion and King. Five days of aftercare runs $450 per month.
Enrichment Programs Vary Widely
Trackers, for example, picks up students after school from several PPS elementary schools, mainly in Southeast. To participate in one day of archery per week, parents pay $120 to $140 per month.
Medium Cool Film School charges $200 to 250 per semester for one two-hour class per week.
EG Robotics charges $160 to $175 for a 12-hour course that is stretched over six weeks.
The Children’s Gym, which picks up students at Alameda, Rigler, Rose City Park and Emerson, charges $33 per day for aftercare, or more than $600 for 5 days of aftercare and gymnastics instruction per month.
How to find after-school care
• Ask at your school.
• Look on school and PTA websites.
• Check 211info.org.
• Check pdxafterschool.com.
• Contact Nancy Hauth at PPS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Check out the district’s Civic Use of Buildings calendar.
Want more options?
• Ask a program to come to your school.
• Ask other families if they are interested because you might need a minimum number.
• Talk to the PTA and principal.
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