Here’s the story of how School’s Out, Inc. came into being, according to Marty DeLaney, an SOI founder and former parent.
Early in 1982, after being a stay-at-home mom for 5 years, I went back to work part-time and found myself talking to parents at the Hamagrael Elementary School about the difficult balancing act of after school care. A group of parents helped me formulate an idea to bring to Principal Joe Schaefer.
If we could find space in the community, the parent group would create an after school care program busing children to a central location for an enrichment program. We all agreed that we wanted it to be what we referred to as the “Helderberg Workshop” of after school care – not a babysitting service, but enrichment, outdoor play and snacks. That vision is unchanged to this day and I know we became role models for other towns shaping similar programs.
Joe Schaefer went to bat for us with then Superintendent Lawrence Zinn. He suggested we recruit expert volunteers from the community to form a Board of Directors for personnel issues, insurance, health and safety, activities, policies and procedures.
Our research into other communities showed no other after school care programs. In fact, the name we chose came from the title of a magazine article, “What Happens When School’s Out and Nobody’s Home?” The whole process took almost a year, and as I think back on it now, it was like having another baby!
Dr. Zinn was not inclined to support the effort at first, thinking that Bethlehem parents had little need for such a program. But Joe Schaefer would become our ally by helping us convince the school board how much need there really was. At one especially memorable school board meeting, we were given a list of at least a dozen requirements that had to be met before any further talks could take place. A big hurdle was the busing situation, as well as how to handle contingency situations. We surprised Dr. Zinn and ourselves when we got it all together, and it was as a team that we went forward from there!
When the program opened in the fall of 1983, there was still doubt in the minds of many as to how this would all work out. Moreover, there were no licensing guidelines for after school care in the early 1980’s, so the following years brought much work for Board Members to get us licensed.
With luck and hard work, the program began to flourish. As one of the founding parents, I often spoke to groups in other communities. We became known as pioneers in the field. In the spring of 1987, we even had a call from the producers of “The Phil Donahue Show” who were doing a show about alternatives to “latchkey” care. I ended up as a member of the panel on his show along with my 8 and 10 year old daughters.
It has been gratifying to watch School’s Out grow and add new and exciting services. The number of families now served is astounding. We envisioned a big program, but no one really knew just how big it would be all these years later!
Our thanks to all those who stood by the School’s Out vision and with hard work made it a reality. We also thank all the Board Members and parent committees throughout the years who have continued to support the vision, making School’s Out a unique and valuable asset to families in the Bethlehem Central School District.