Child care program in Groton for before and after school sees enrollment triple

Groton - Enrollment in a before- and after-school child care program in Groton has tripled in less than two years, and the program expanded in March to a second location.

The Tree House Child Care Program, formerly Kolnaski School Age Child Care or KSACC, enrolled about 30 students in August 2012 when Alisha Stripling took over as director.

It provided child care before and after school, on professional development days, half days, spring break and during summer recess to students at Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School. The program opened to students from other towns during the summer.

Yet enrollment remained low. Stripling knew the demand was there anyway.

"Many of our parents need to work, and they need somewhere safe for their kids to be after school and before school," she said.

Tree House is a Board of Education program, but it does not receive school or town money. It's self-supporting.

Kolnaski Principal Christine Dauphinais said when Stripling arrived, the program was just hanging on and enrollment had dropped.

"That was part of her charge to restructure the program - to make it a more desirable program but also to make it something that matched what a child care program should be," Dauphinais said.

Stripling revamped it to provide homework time, physical activities, arts and crafts and other activities. The program obtained a $4,800 grant from the Groton Education Foundation to improve the summer session by offering field trips and theme weeks like gardening, the dramatic arts and science. Enrollment rose swiftly.

Parents from towns including Colchester and Waterford began dropping off their children on their way to work at Pfizer and Electric Boat.

"It was so successful that we can now sustain the program without the grant funds," Dauphinais said.

Jennifer Sullivan, whose daughters attend Claude Chester School and are bused to the after-school program, said her daughter tried it for the first time during spring break last year. She enjoyed it so much she went back for the summer.

"I feel very safe having the girls here. There's very few staff so there's very little turnover," she said.

"They're doing so many things with the kids," said Sara Marshall, whose 6-year-old sons also take a bus from Claude Chester. "They're going to the museum, they're bringing people in from the aquarium ... They're problem solving, and they encourage the children to explore their creativity.

"It's not like a day care where the kids are running around acting crazy. There's a lot of structure, which I need."

Parents also appreciate its affordability, Marshall said. Tree House is open from 6:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. and charges $30 a week for before-school care, $35 a week for after-school child care or $60 a week for both. The spring and summer programs charge $110 per week for Groton families, and $135 per week for non-resident families.

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