With the start of school approaching in a little over a month, Dothan City School Superintendent Phyllis Edwards has given principals the important task of choosing how to handle before- and after-school programs.

Dothan Preparatory Academy Principal Darius McKay is in the process of drafting a proposal for an in-house before-school program.

“It’s going to be a time period where we’re trying to get students to start the school day mindset,” McKay said. “It’s going to be mostly homework help, some light movement throughout that morning. We’ll also do some light music – nothing too strenuous.”

There will be a financial charge, but McKay said specifics on cost and an exact start time have not been decided yet. He will have more information available to the public in a couple of weeks.

Elementary school principals have been presented the option to similarly host their own programs, or outsource an extended learning program to Afterschool Labs, better known as A-Labs.

A-Labs provides STEAM-based curriculum, meaning academic learning focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

“This is your community (education) after-school…I’m going to call it daycare – I know we’re not supposed to but that’s what it is – program, with a curriculum overlay on it,” Whit Colvin, an A-Labs representative said during his presentation to the board at Thursday’s work session. “So, it’s teaching after school, it’s enrichment activity, and it’s also fun.”

The program would start after students are dismissed at 2:30 p.m. At around 3:30, students will be given a snack, provided in partnership with the DCS Child Nutrition Program, and engage in free play. Then, students will have an hour to participate in the curriculum component.

After that, they will have an hour of “study stars” time, which is essentially traditional school work, with help from learning staff as needed. If they do not have homework, they have access to learning centers, where students can “explore freely the possibilities of play with building blocks, logic puzzles, science/engineering kits, and other educational toys and games,” according to a program descriptor.

Students can then engage in guided play until 6 p.m. or until they are picked up by a parent or guardian.

Students enrolled in the program will also have the opportunity to participate in daily team challenges, where students can compete in structured team-building challenges, such as the completion of obstacle courses, logic puzzles, and minute-to-win-it challenges, which emphasizes communication, cooperation, and collaborative thinking skills.

At the end of each semester, students can present their STEAM research to classmates, parents, and teachers.

The program is used by several other larger systems in the state, including Huntsville, and is more than just playtime and homework time like many other extended day programs, Colvin added.

“This is playtime, homework time, but the playtime, homework time and learning time all revolve around things that kids love anyway, like experiments and animals and rockets and dinosaurs and fun things…” Colvin said.

An exact price for the program is yet to be determined, but tuition usually costs from $35 to $55 per week, plus a $30 registration fee. Discounted tuition is available for multi-student families. The cost of the program includes an afternoon snack.

“There’s a profit-sharing in it too, so there’s a benefit back to schools,” Colvin said. “Because we all expect community (education) programs to generate revenue. That’s the way they’re supposed to work.”

Schools will receive 8 percent of the revenue collected by A-Labs.

Throughout his presentation, Colvin emphasized that the relationship with the district is essential to how the program operates and said teachers were encouraged to apply.

After the meeting, Edwards said that about half of the elementary schools are leaning toward using A-Labs, while the other half are ironing out the details on their own afterschool programs.

Decisions about the programs will likely be presented to the school board and the public in August.

The school board made a decision in June on a revised bell schedule for the school system, which includes staggering start times and dismissal times to allow buses to transport students to schools efficiently and punctually.

Instruction for elementary schools will begin at 7:40 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. Dothan High School will begin its day at 8:10 a.m. and end at 3:10 p.m. while Dothan Prep Academy (Jr. High) will begin its day at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:40 p.m.

If no other meetings are called, the school board will next meet again on Thursday, Aug. 15 at 2 p.m. at Beverlye Intermediate School for a scheduled work session.

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