Charleston County School District’s (CCSD) Office of Expanded Learning aims to make the working parents’ lives easier through their Kaleidoscope after school programs.
Kaleidoscope is an after school care, fee-based program offered in CCSD schools. The program, which operates on an income-based sliding scale for tuition offers an array of activities from dismissal from school until 6 p.m. each day. The programs operate on half-days, teacher workdays and holidays in addition to the regularly scheduled CCSD school days.
There are 45 Kaleidoscope sites in the district, all of which have an individual site coordinator dedicated to handling the day-to-day operations and management within each school. There are five Regional Program officers that manage eight to 10 site coordinators each. The East Cooper schools fall within Kaleidescope’s East Region which is made up of Carolina Park Elementary, Charles Pinckney Elementary, James B. Edwards Elementary, Jennie Moore Elementary, Laurel Hill Primary, Mitchel Elementary (downtown Charleston), Mount Pleasant Academy, Sullivan’s Island Elementary and Whitesides Elementary.
Kaleidoscope’s Director of Expanded Learning Jason A. Sakran shared he personally benefits from the program’s after school care. He enrolled his daughter in the program so she would have after school care and experience enrichment activities until he gets off work.
“Their child’s there in a safe environment. In many schools they get a snack and homework assistance. It’s a win-win from a parent’s perspective on a traditional school day,” Sakran said.
Sakran shared that the Office of Expanded Learning looked at rates across the entire Southeastern region to make sure their income-based rates were competitive with other after school programs. The rates, which just increased this year aren’t anticipated to go up again for two years. Sakran explained rates increase to account for the cost of living and to hire staff. All rates can be found on CCSD’s website.
He explains the sliding scale allows parents who can pay in full to help a family at another school who may not be able to pay as much to still allow their children to attend Kaleidoscope. The Office of Expanded Learning is instructed by the district to operate at a cost neutral rate, according to Sakran. But, they are working to make surplus in order to accommodate more staff and activities within the schools.
Current enrichment programs and activities vary from chess, dance, art, coding, engineering, foreign language, music and more. Beginning in January, the Kaleidoscope program will roll out digital technology enrichment programs at two schools in each region. The 10 schools selected will deliver support and digital content to students through certified teachers and counselors trained in tutoring. The students and staff will work together on online portals to receive homework assistance and tutoring for students that need academic help.
The East Region Program Officer Ashley Peters has been working with the district’s after school programs for 28 years. Peters said it’s been very exciting to grow with the field and find the resources to help make a difference in children’s lives. Students as young as four years old in Child Development classes can participate in Kaleidoscope and stay in through the summer before sixth grade.
“I truly feel like we have a family environment. All of my nine site coordinators have worked as a counselor in the program before they’ve been elevated,” Peters said.
She explained these site coordinators have worked an average of 10 years each in the programs. The Sullivan’s Island Elementary Site Coordinator, Jacqueline Meade has been working with the program for 29 years altogether.
“We’re definitely committed and in it for the right reasons; for the kids and to help working families. A lot of these parents can’t go to work if they don’t know they have reliable care,” Peters said. “The fact we’re located in the schools is a definite benefit. They don’t have to worry about their kids getting on the bus or going here or there.”
The site coordinators also work with teachers at the schools to make sure they are aware of each student’s progress in the classroom. The site coordinators each determine their own program schedules to accommodate students’ desires and needs during after school time.
Whitesides Elementary’s Kaleidoscope Site Coordinator Pamela Angelakis oversees 165 registered students and eight to 10 staff members each day. She started out as a Kaleidoscope counselor 11 years ago at Laurel Hill while she was attending the College of Charleston.
“I just fell in love with working with the kids. I was an Exercise Science major but I just never left Kaleidoscope,” Angelakis said. “I love working with kids in every aspect from the art projects, the interactions and being a role model; so I never left.”
Angelakis said she enjoys connecting with the students in the program and that the experiences they offer allow students to learn how to socially interact. She explains her goal is to give an environment at the school and activities to help the students get out of their bubbles and make friends they may not have an opportunity to make during the school day.
“Kids don’t want to leave when their parents come to sign them out so I think they enjoy being here. I think it makes them happier at home because they’ve had their time to play, they get their homework done and then their parents pick them up. I think it makes their family time more enjoyable too,” Angelakis added.
Angelakis explained the staff builds trusting relationships with parents so they know their children are safe after school. She also thinks that the students are more comfortable staying within the environment of their school in the programs.
The Whitesides’ program offers two STEAM and two art projects to the students each week. Angelakis said they also do an edible literacy project each week where they’ll read a book together and then make a food related to the book. At 5:15 p.m. everyday their students participate in recreation time or a game to end the day.
Peters echoed Sakran by saying Kaleidoscope programs are reasonably priced when compared to daycares. She also said that parents have more flexibility than other after school programs because they can choose their own schedules and pay based on attendance.
Students can pick any school to attend Kaleidoscope’s summer programs, Peters shared. She explained they downsize programs in the summer and primarily students will go where their site coordinators go. They also offer a summer program on the beach at Sullivan’s Island that many CCSD students take advantage of attending.
Peters explained that Kaleidoscope staff members are trained in numerous safety and security certifications. Staff members are CPR certified, receive Stop the Bleed training, Darkness to Light training, meet Occupational Safety Councils of America (OSCA) requirements and adhere to CCSD standards. The programs are monitored and audited by Department of Social Services (DSS).
Kaleidoscope programs supplies snacks to all children and Title 1 schools serve dinner to students enrolled in their program. Also, Sakran said according to his knowledge, Kaleidoscope is the only after school program in the area to have a full time nurse on staff to respond to medical emergencies or answer safety questions from the site coordinators. Millie Day, RN responds to all of CCSD’s after school Kaleidoscope programs.
“The reason we did that was we really wanted to mimic the school day. After school kids don’t stop having health issues or accidents, in fact some of those things happen more frequently when they’re out there running around so we needed to have someone like Millie out there taking care of issues,” Sakran said.
Angelakis said that it is nice to have a nurse as a resource to call with any medical or health related question after school hours.
While most CCSD Kaleidoscope programs currently have a waiting list to accept new students, the Office of Expanded Learning is actively searching for new staff to hire. Currently for every staff member they can hire, they can accept 15 more students off a waiting list and into a program.
“It’s not that we don’t want to take the kids. We wish we could take everyone off the waiting list. We’re trying some different things to ease the waiting lists and it’s just a vicious cycle for us right now,” Peters said.
Anyone over the age of 18 interested in applying can visit the CCSD website. Peters encourages college students interested in going into the education field to look for open positions at Kaleidoscope. She said there have been many staff members to get into the system and get recognized and recruited by the school district for their dedication and hard work.
“It’s a good way for them to get their foot in the door and gain some first-hand knowledge. They’ll learn leadership skills, life skills and how to navigate professionally,”Peters said. “”You have to learn how to cooperate with one another and get kids engaged in activities and keep them on task.”