New after-school program beginning to fill need for child care in Caribou

3 months ago

CARIBOU, Maine – Though it’s far from the only solution, Aroostook County Action Program’s partnership with Caribou Community School is already giving working parents more child care options.

Caribou has been in great need of more child care since Miss Jordyn’s Child Development Center closed in August. That center served over 100 children and left parents fearful of quitting their jobs amidst a county-wide shortage in child care providers. 

In November, ACAP launched a new after-school program at Caribou Community School for children aged 5 to 12, hoping to fill some gaps left by Miss Jordyn’s closure. Demand was clear from the start, Megan Barnes, ACAP’s director of programs, said.

“When we opened applications, we easily got between 40 and 50 phone calls and applications,” Barnes said. 

Alphena Pelletier, 6, plays with blocks during ACAP’s after-school program at Caribou Community School. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

The program costs $144 per week for full-time students who attend all five days after school and $111 per week for part-time students. Though ACAP is licensed to serve 39 children, the nonprofit decided to cap the Caribou program at 15 in order to help staff focus more on each child. Eleven children are enrolled now but ACAP is open to adding a second after-school group if demand increases, Barnes said.

All children in the program are Caribou Community School students. So far, many parents have been teachers, accountants, social workers and ACAP staff, all of whom have continued working because they were able to find after-school care.

Most child care providers cannot count children as “full time” if they only stay after school, leaving many slots unavailable for those who need care between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m., Barnes said.

“The pandemic gave people more options for remote work, but it’s still difficult to balance professional and personal needs,” Barnes said. “This [new program] has given parents access to child care and reduces travel for children after school.”

Branson Parent, 7, (left) deals a card during a game of Uno with Alex Levesque, 6. Parent and Levesque attend ACAP’s new after-school program at Caribou Community School. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

For parents like Krystal Levesque of Caribou, ACAP’s program provided relief during a time of uncertainty. Levesque’s 6-year-old son, Alex Levesque, was attending Miss Jordyn’s after school prior to that center’s closure. 

Fortunately, a family friend who teaches at Caribou Community School was able to watch Alex, but Krystal still needed to leave work early to pick him up. Krystal is the lab manager for Northern Light AR Gould Hospital in Presque Isle. 

“There aren’t a lot of child care providers who cater to the after-school children,” Krystal Levesque said. “[After Miss Jordyn’s closed], I only found one but she didn’t have any openings. My husband and I both work, so that makes things more difficult.”

But thanks to ACAP’s program, Alex is able to play with friends after school and Krystal can put in a full day of work before picking him up. Many of Alex’s after-school friends also attended Miss Jordyn’s.

Two ACAP staff members and two volunteers from Caribou Community School operate the after-school program. Every day, students have a snack, finish homework and participate in outdoor or indoor activities, said Karen Page, ACAP after-school program coordinator.

ACAP is already exploring how they might partner with other schools for similar programs, Barnes said.

“It’s not the only solution, but it is a viable option for parents,” Barnes said.