Kid Zone a big winner in national rankings

By Melissa Hirschl

The Kid Zone enrichment program at Kyrene de las Manitas Elementary School just got a lot richer. A working partnership between the Kyrene and Tempe Elementary school districts and the city of Tempe, the program recently hit the scholastic jackpot by winning an award for achieving the highest possible standards for the quality of before- and after-school programs.

The school’s laudable new status is documented by accreditation from the National After School Association, a professional organization that sets standards for quality in the field of school-age enrichment programming.

The six key areas the association assessed were: human relationships, indoor and outdoor environment (utilization of space), activities, health, safety and nutrition, and administration.

The seventh such Kid Zone program to be launched in Arizona, and the first of 19 statewide to earn such a distinction, Manitas’ effort also is riding on a wave of impressive enrollment statistics, with 140 children currently enrolled.

Conducted mainly by college students who collaborate extensively with teachers, the program provides kids with educational, enriching and fun-filled activities.

“We’ve worked really hard for 2½ years on making sure that we were meeting standards that would help the children be self sufficient, responsible and respectful,” says Goodman.

According to Andrea Goodman, site coordinator for the Manitas Kid Zone, members of the national accreditation team are interested in how children interact with each other, how staff interact with children and how parents relate to staff members.

“Our efforts have also been concentrated on providing a variety of higher-level thinking skills that challenge kids. An important goal of ours was also to build a sense of community between not only the children, but also the parents, so that they had opportunities to interact with their children as well as other parents. To further that vision, we strongly encourage parents to play with the kids when they pick them up, even if it’s just participating in face painting.”

Another avenue for parents who want to become more fully involved in their child’s activities at Kid Zone is ASQ, acronym for Assessing School Age Quality. Consisting of parents, school staff, Kid Zone administration, staff and a few children, the group provides varied perspectives on the strengths and weaknesses of the program.

Required for accreditation, the goals are accomplished by a specific action plan. One result of the plan was providing a cozy reading area; another was creating a Kid Zone library.

To meet the standards for indoor and outdoor activities, staff members hit upon the perfect concept: They simply brought the indoors outdoors. Board games, for instance, were brought outside, as well as homework activities, so that children would have a structured outdoor environment as well the freedom to move around

In addition to these goals, the school had to provide opportunities for children to make their own decisions.

According to Goodman, this was accomplished through open communication, where the children are presented with a variety of open-ended questions that stimulate thinking.

“Instead of solving concerns for the children, the staff teaches the children how to solve the problems,” says Goodman.

“We also emphasize accountability and let them know that with responsibility comes privileges; we hope this will make them feel more ownership of the program.”

For instance, says Goodman, if the older kids are interested in a woodworking activity, they have incentives to earn the privilege. These incentives could be reading to younger children or mentoring them.

A shining star in the program for families is the International Festival, in which all the students bring something from their culture or share a tradition. Families bond with each other as they share their individual heritage through food, games and even clothes.

“Everybody has something particular and unique to their family,” says Goodman, “if they dig deep enough. These traits are what makes everyone special.”

The school also tries hard to make sure different cultures are represented in the Kid Zone daily program. “That was a little challenging, says Goodman. “It took a lot of collaboration with the parents to figure out how to incorporate that theme throughout the program.”

Enrichment clinics are another aspect of the Kid Zone program that makes it so successful and satisfying for children, according to Goodman.

Clinics offer a breadth of exciting subjects that allow children to develop their special talents as well as cognitive skills and physical abilities. Science, Spanish, drama, jewelry making, cooking, cheerleading, travel or magic and illusion are just a smattering of topics to choose from. These are hands-on classes which include lessons and objectives, as well as huge doses of fun.

A fundamental aspect of the clinics is that they draw from the children’s interests.  If the kids are all excited about bugs, for example, staff members can take that interest and run with it.

Now that Manitas has been accredited and offers a smorgasbord of opportunities for growth and enrichment, other local schools are also aiming their sites on the same, Goodman says.

“It was really neat to hear people say that if (you and your) staff can do it, we can too,” says Goodman. That to me was a personal victory, because it says we made a difference, not only for the children we serve but for other children as well.

“We have definitely raised the quality of our care through getting this accreditation.”

Parents can contact Manitas Kid Zone at (480) 783-2096 or the city of Tempe at (480) 350-544 for information about Kid Zone program availability and hours of operation.

The program operates in five Kyrene schools, is licensed and inspected by the Arizona Department of Health Services and is certified by the Department of Economic Security.

Staff-to-child ratio is approximately one staff member to 12 children, which exceeds the standards of one to 20 set by the Arizona Department of Health Services.