Walking through the doors of my daughters’ school, I felt butterflies in my stomach. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Until this moment, I had been a stay-at-home mom to my daughters Sydney and Ella*. Lately though, my husband had been working fewer hours. Together we decided since the girls were in fourth and first grade, now would be a good time for me to go back to work. Today had been my first day at my new job and, more importantly, my daughters’ first day in the After School STARS program at Northwood Elementary.
I hadn’t been sure what to do about after-school programming, especially because most of the options I found were so expensive—it defeated the income-based purpose of going back to work in the first place. Our budget was already tight; I bought most of the girls’ clothes second-hand, I was constantly clipping coupons, and we took family outings only to free places such as park or the public library.
“The outrageous cost of after-school programming had threatened to make my return to work impossible.”
Then, my friend who has a son Sydney’s age told me about the STARS program. She mentioned the program’s sliding scale fees, scholarships, and sibling discounts. It seemed like a perfect financial fit for us, but would it also fit our girls’ needs…
I knew Sydney would enjoy the outdoor activities and access to technology, but I worried about Ella. She had been struggling with social skills and didn’t have many school friends. Her teacher told me that Ella spent most lunches and recesses by herself.
As I drove the short commute from my new job to pick-up the girls, I worried again that her shyness was making school harder for her. Would STARS be just another place she didn’t fit in?
I parked, stepped out of the car and slowly walked into Northwood Elementary to pick up the girls. Entering the cafeteria, I was greeted by a smiling staff member.
“Hi, I’m Miss Amanda. You must be Sydney and Ella’s mom,” the woman said, double checking the clipboard that she was carrying.
“Yes,” I replied, hesitantly looking around the room for my girls.
Children sat at tables—some working on homework, others playing with iPads and computers or making crafts with pipe cleaners and fuzzy pom poms. Every table had at least one adult working with the kids. Finally, I caught Sydney’s eye and she ran toward me.
“Hi, Mom!” she exclaimed with a smile. “I had so much fun! I played on the swings with my friends and then we had a dance party. Miss Stephanie helped me with my times tables too! And, I finished all of my homework!” she finished proudly.
“All of your homework?” I asked dubiously. Along with worrying about the girls reaction to today’s “new normal”, I had also been mentally planning the rest of my evening. Between rushing home to make dinner, making sure homework was done and checked, and getting both girls bathed and in bed, I was expecting there wouldn’t be much time for anything else.
After almost ten years of spending all day every day with my kids, I felt sad and worried that my new job would keep me away from the parts of parenthood I loved most.
Sydney nodded enthusiastically. “Yep! ALL my homework! Miss Brooke even checked it for me and said I did really good.”
I smiled, pleased I might be able to find some family time in our evening after all. “That’s my girl.” I said, and gave her a high five.
Suddenly, I stopped and began to look around the room again. Where was Ella? I was surprised she hadn’t been the one to greet me first at the door and turned to Miss Amanda to asked her if she knew where Ella was.
My heart sank as I braced myself for her to tell me, just like Ella’s other teachers had, that Ella had struggled to connect with the other children. “Oh! She’s at the technology table. She did great today, by the way.”
My look of surprise must have been enough to prompt her to continue.
“Well, at first she had a little bit of a hard time, but a lot of our newcomers do. Mr. Eric talked to her for a little while and then convinced her to try playing with some of the other first-graders. She and Lila have been inseparable all day.” She concluded as she pointed to the right.
Shocked, I looked over at the table Amanda was gesturing toward. Ella sat with another girl and the two of them were giggling. I felt a rush of relief. One of my biggest fears about returning to work was Ella would struggle spending more time at school. Looking at her happily playing with her new friend, I realized for the first time that would not be the case.
“STARS is much more than just after school childcare. It’s a place for my girls to make new friends, learn in different ways and have fun.”
A staff member sitting at Ella’s table noticed me watching her and I saw her pointing me out to her. Ella jumped up from the table, walked over to me and wearing a huge grin said, “Hi, Mommy!”
“Hi, sweetie. How did it go?” I asked.
“Great! We had a snack and Lila showed me math games on the iPad. They’re really fun!” Ella responded as I helped her put on her jacket. “Can we come back tomorrow?”
Taking each of my daughters’ hands in my own I grinned from ear to ear. The butterflies in my stomach were completely gone. “Yes, you definitely can.”
*This blog post is fictional but based on a real success story submitted by Community Learning Centers of WCESC. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the individual’s personal successes and struggles.