The after-school program at Laura B. Anderson Elementary School is growing, thanks to a collaboration among school staff, neighbors, volunteers and non-profit childcare providers working under the auspices of Sioux Falls Thrive.

Thrive is a neutral facilitator of community collaboration focusing on the housing, food and out-of-school needs of children in Sioux Falls. For LBA, that means by the time school reopens for the 2021 fall semester, there’ll be a free, five-day per week after-school program for as many as 60 kids.

“When we started, none of us imagined we could pull this off,” says Michelle Erpenbach, who was hired to lead the Kid Link pilot and now serves as Thrive’s president.

Thrive launched its Kid Link Riverside initiative in March 2020. Its Food Security Action Team aimed to get groceries into the homes of LBA students’ families. The attendance area — which includes the neighborhoods of Riverside, Norton Tracks, Froehlich Addition, and Valley View Trailer Park — is a food desert, which means affordable, healthy food is not easily accessible.

 

Hungry kids aren’t learners. We knew Feeding South Dakota was ready to work with us to bring charitable food into the area. Beyond that, we simply planned to do the next right thing.

Michelle Erpenbach

President, Sioux Falls Thrive

 

What Is The Next Right Thing?

It turned out that the next right thing was figuring out how — in the middle of a pandemic — to build trusting relationships with LBA kids, parents, and neighbors.

With the school building closed to the public, Kid Link volunteers took to the playground throughout the summer of 2020. They offered a kids’ activity one evening a week, and a free hot meal served by Nightwatch food truck volunteers on occasional Saturdays.

When school resumed, nearby Sermon on the Mount Mennonite Church offered to host Kid Link Riverside indoors during the fall and winter. The Sioux Falls School District helped Thrive establish COVID protocols that kept the church’s doors open and families streaming in.

“Being there every Tuesday, week after week, showed the community that we cared and could be trusted,” Erpenbach says. “Best yet, it helped families understand how after-school programs work and how those activities help kids succeed in school.”

 

Kid Link Riverside activities cover academics — including science, math and reading — and physical exercise through sports, dance and other games.

 

After-School Program? Parents Say Yes

Survey results confirmed parents’ interest in an expanded after-school program. With fewer than 20 LBA kids in the school district’s fee-based after-school program — Kids Inc. — volunteers wondered how to grow those numbers.

Over the past two years, Thrive’s YMCA After-School Program Enhancement task team increased participation at Whittier and McGovern middle schools. They were using a federal grant and contributions from youth-serving agencies. Could a similar approach work at LBA?

Kid Link Riverside was already a shared services model. There, Boys & Girls Club of the Sioux Empire coordinated weekly kids’ programming. The Salvation Army of Sioux Falls, the Siouxland Libraries’ Bookmobile, volunteers, and staff from various youth-serving agencies kept the kids busy.

But just as expansion plans were falling into place, volunteers learned the application for an anticipated education grant had failed.

“At our next meeting, we spent all of 12 minutes feeling miserable, then we regrouped,” says Rebecca Wimmer, Executive Director of Boys & Girls Club of the Sioux Empire. BGCSE runs 12 childcare and after-school programs. “Our biggest costs are for facility and transportation. So keeping Kids Inc. as a partner, was critical.”

That wasn’t a huge obstacle. “So long as the school district was OK with the plan, I knew Kids Inc. would be on board,” said Program Manager Jodi Miller.

Volunteer David Wegner reads to Kid Link guests

Building reading and math skills are critical goals for the volunteers who serve Laura B. Anderson Elementary School students through Kid Link Riverside.

 

After-School Program: Regroup and Reset

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place when Sarah Hanson, Director of Strategic Initiatives for Volunteers of America, Dakotas, realized she might be able to move 21st Century education grant funds from her agency’s existing program to a tutoring program after school at LBA.

Hanson approached her boss, CEO Dennis Hoffman, with the idea. “VOA has always planned to serve LBA, but we don’t have enough vans to pick up the kids from school, bring them to our facility, and take them home again,” Hanson says. “Moving our tutoring program into the school building means cutting transportation expenses in half.”

Kid Link Riverside Out-of-School-Time Task Team members put the finishing touches on a plan for the Laura B. Anderson After-School Collaborative at a July 2021 meeting.

  • Kids Inc. is the structural nexus for the collaborative and will continue to staff and operate the basic after-school program.
  • The Boys & Girls Club will continue to organize enrichment activities for weekly Kid Link Riverside events and daily for Kids Inc. students. Among those supporting these efforts are The Salvation Army, Lutheran Social Services, 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the dance troop Move to Heal South Dakota, Dakota Rural Action, Siouxland Libraries Bookmobile, Faith Through Frames, the YMCA, and volunteers who have coached in academics, especially math skills.
  • VOA, Dakotas will provide 30 hours of onsite tutoring and a summer program for Kids Inc. students.

 

Working Out the Details

There are a few details yet to be worked out. BGCSE and VOA, Dakotas, for example, are developing a parent engagement program. A steering committee comprised of school administrators, parents, and representatives from lead agencies will oversee the pilot and make needed changes during implementation.

Overall, the LBA After-School Collaborative came together by realigning existing resources. The annual cost per student is estimated at $2,300 – $2,400. It may take a little philanthropic support to scholarship all the deserving students into the program.

“Thrive is like the parable of the stone soup,” Erpenbach says. “When people collaborate and leave self-interest at the meeting room door, the smallest contributions can add up to truly remarkable outcomes.”

HOW CAN I LEARN MORE?

News about Kid Link Riverside and Family Link is available at facebook.com/SiouxFallsThrive. Parents will also receive information through their child’s classroom mailbox. Click the link below to subscribe to Kid Link email news.

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