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Library to Make Changes to After-School Program

Jun 28, 2019 06:00AM ● By Amy Bartelloni
At the parent forum (L-R): Librarians Amanda Maclure,Diane Nelson and Cecily Christensen

story & photo by Amy Bartelloni, Contributing Writer

Bellingham Library hosted two parent information sessions in May to inform middle school parents of possible changes to after-school programming next year.

The sessions were led by Library Director Bernadette Rivard and attended by Children’s Librarian Steve Fowler, After School Kids (ASK) Director Diane Nelson, and Young Adult Librarian Amanda Maclure, among other library staff and trustees. 

Rivard began by detailing the history of the library’s after-school program, noting that owing to the library’s location in walking distance from the high school and middle school, their after-school program has grown beyond their wildest expectations.

The program took off in 2007, when the middle school served grades 6-8 and the high school was grades 9-12. The library received a grant that year to service teens, but the program became too large and noisy. The teens were moved to the community room as the library worked to secure funding for a dedicated teen space.

In the meantime, the town changed the school set-up so that grades 5–8 were at the middle school, and then eventually going to a 4–7th grade configuration with grades 8–12 at the high school, so the library has been seeing more younger students. The staff secured funding for the teen room, but it didn’t make sense to include the younger students in that room because they’re not teens yet. 

“So we adapted,” Rivard said, making a new after-school drop-in program specifically for grades 4-7 that they called After School Kids (ASK), which is currently held in the children’s program room. 

Although the after-school programs are popular, the library has been having problems with kids who come to the library after school and don’t participate in the programs, or join for a short time and then leave. Although library staff members encourage them to participate in programs, they can’t force the issue, and this has resulted in disruptions to patrons and staff as kids congregate around the library’s main areas or in the parking lot, causing congestion, noise, and safety issues.

The library has dealt with trash in areas where there should be no eating, as well as vandalism in the new café area;  they don’t have staff to constantly monitor those areas. This has caused the library to rethink their after-school policy for next year.

“Our policy on children in the library has always been that middle school children can come to the library unattended, but that was created when it was 6thgraders,” said Rivard.

Though they’ve tried to accommodate the new configuration, it’s been a challenge, and enforcing those rules has proved to be impossible.

“Our policy states that they can be unattended for an amount of time appropriate to their age and maturity,” she went on, but “some of them aren’t mature enough to be here unattended, not participating in our program.”

Next year, the library is considering requiring parents of 4-6th grade students to register so that the staff will have parent contact information. “It won’t be that your younger kids won’t be able to come to the library. They’ll be expected to participate in our programs,” Rivard said. 

She was quick to add that the library does not have the school responsibility of acting “in loco parentis.” They will not be taking attendance or making sure students arrive or are there. She compared dropping students off at the library to dropping them off at the mall.

“It’s up to you to set parameters with your children about what you want them to do in the building and what they can’t do,” she said, including leaving the program or building. 

The library will not contact parents if kids don’t attend or if they leave the building, but they will be able to use contact information to get in touch with parents of children who do not meet behavior expectations. Any student doing quiet work or studying is welcome in any area of the library, including the adult area.

“We’re anticipating a lot more kids coming [next year],” Children’s Librarian Steve Fowler added, “so [the community room] is probably where we’re going to have the program.” They’re also trying to fund the program for 5 days next year. The after-school program is free, but Rivard noted that donations to the Friends of the Library are always welcome. 

Further, the library gave out a set of proposed behavior expectations and asked parents to review them with their kids. These include no running, keeping your hands to yourself, having food and drink in approved areas only, picking up after yourselves, and storing personal items in approved areas. They ask students to be mindful of noise level, as well as swearing and conversation topics, and to communicate pickup time with parents because the library’s phone is for library business.

Bullying or talking back to staff members will not be tolerated, and students are not allowed to hang around outside the library unless they’re at the picnic area by the teen room. Misbehavior will result in being asked to leave the property, and parents of students in grades 4-6 will be contacted. 

They ask students and parents to be mindful of the parking lot and not block the girl statue for pickup, since there have been several accidents in recent years. 

An August sign-up event is anticipated, which will be posted on the library’s Facebook page when the date is secured. The library trustees will vote on changing the policy at their June and July meetings, which are open to the public. 

The next meeting will be held July 11 at the library, and anyone is welcome. Questions or comments can be directed to the library, and those participating in the ASK program are free to check in with ASK Director Diane at any time.






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