Attendance at Kids’ Club, the Recreation Department’s school-age care program, is on track to reach and even surpass pre-pandemic levels.
The Recreation Commission recently reviewed the status of Kids’ Club with the director, Dan Brosgol. And although there are some concerns about recruiting staff, the trends are positive.
“Every time I go down, there are smiles everywhere – smiles and high fives,” said Recreation Director Josh Smith. “These kids are psyched to be here.”
After the meeting, he commented, “The need for child care is clearly there, and increasing. And the increase in kids the last three years speaks to how well Kids’ Club is run and staffed.”
Kids’ Club, covering kindergarten through fifth grade and open all year, is based in the north wing of Town Center, with a branch at Lane School.
“The most important thing,” Brosgol said, “is when the town talks about inclusivity, we model that every day of the year,” including disabled kids. “Kids from all walks of life are very comfortable,” he said, and the staff collectively is fluent in seven languages.
“When I came on in 2019, the place was bursting at the seams,” Brosgol told the commission. The 2018-19 fiscal year statistics he provided back that up: 850 enrolled in the after-school segment and 220 before school, as well as 795 for school vacations in December, February, and April.
Indeed, the following fiscal year, the respective numbers were 887, 269, and 634 – and that was actually for a little more than nine months, as by mid-March the club was closed, along with the schools.
For the current year, which ends June 30, there are 781 registered after school, 206 before school, and 621 for two vacation weeks.
“The Covid correction was an overcorrection,” Brosgol said. The numbers bottomed out in 2020-21, when only 172 registered after school, 78 before school, and 276 for the vacation weeks. “Now we are back to levels that are more manageable.”
“It’s hard to find people. We always need staff,” particularly adults, Brosgol told the commission. “We have a great crop of high-school kids, and we are probably going to have more high-school kids and fewer adults.” Most people working at Kids’ Club live in Bedford, Brosgol reported. “It’s a happy, collegial place to work, with good people.”
He added that pay needs to increase to be more competitive, but also emphasized that “the staff is really committed.
Brosgol noted that Kids’ Club has received more than $200,000 in a Commonwealth Cares for Children grant from the state Department of Early Education and Care. The money, earmarked for day-to-day operating costs, is allocated to the recreation revolving fund.
He acknowledged the challenge of managing two program sites. Brosgol said he is physically at Town Center 85 percent of the time. There is “excellent synergy” between Kids’ Club and Recreation Department programming at Lane School, he added.
The director also talked about the Kids’ Club summer scene, for children entering kindergarten through sixth grade. “It’s hard to do summer well. Summer programming has lots of room for improvement.” In 2022, he noted, 120 children moved every afternoon from the Summer Adventures program at the high school to Kids’ Club.
The number of summer visits in 2019 was 5,604; last July and August the total was 5,461. During the low point of the pandemic, July and August of 2020, the number of visits was 1,874.
Commission Chair Robin Steele asked if there is any way to integrate swimming at Springs Brook Park with the summer agenda. “I’m not sure of the logistics behind that,” said Smith. Member Mike O’Donnell suggested considering an extra fee.
“The biggest problem is infrastructure; there’s just not enough for them to do,” O’Donnell continued. Smith noted that “there are a lot of things Dan and his staff do to keep them entertained.” Steele wondered if the Bedford Public Library could serve as a resource.
Brosgol enumerated what he sees as upcoming challenges: outdoor play space in the spring; more professional development opportunities for staff; qualified caregivers for “kids with challenging behaviors;” and “more thought partners on the hard issues.” Smith replied, “We are going to keep investing in the program for sure.”
The director also reflected on future possibilities for Kids’ Club. He noted that elementary grades’ enrollment in Bedford is declining. “Even with fewer kids, everyone needs care,” he said, including “more complicated kids.” Brosgol praised the Kids’ Club staff, saying, “It’s hard work, and it’s every single day.”