The Moab BEACON Afterschool program offers a safe, structured space for elementary and middle school students between the end of the school day and 5 p.m—not just good for kids, but a boon for many local working parents.
“It allows a lot of our families to have less stress around the child care issue,” said Xandra Odland, the director for BEACON Afterschool. She said they don’t have a count of how many parents rely on the program for childcare during working hours, but that many students do attend BEACON every weekday throughout all four sessions offered over the school year.
BEACON programming includes fun and enriching clubs and activities as well as academic support.
Recently, the organization has expanded its tutoring programs and field trip opportunities and added new clubs; they’re looking to hire more staff to help the organization continue to grow, and soliciting contributions to their annual fundraiser.
The organization’s annual report reviewing the 2020/2021 school year says that the organization served over two hundred students from Helen M. Knight Elementary School, the Moab Charter School, Margaret L. Hopkin Middle School, and homeschool settings, aided by community support and volunteers. 189 elementary-aged students attended at least one BEACON club, and 72 of those students attended BEACON for at least 30 days of the year.
Over half of the kids currently enrolled at Helen M. Knight Elementary have participated in BEACON at some point during their time at the school. Full priced registration for the program is affordable, and there is a sliding scale system in place for low-income families.
Odland said that while many students attend BEACON all year, many also sign up for a single club or activity that interests them. Club themes range from arts and crafts to sports, music, games and outdoors. One BEACON staff member is also a working artist, and he leads a club called “Art with Daniel.”
Starting this coming spring, the organization will launch a new club in partnership with local nonprofit Science Moab focused on nature and science. Kids will have the opportunity to interact with the outdoors in a variety of ways. Final programming is still being determined, but there could be plein air painting, plant identification, and sessions with local scientists. BEACON often partners with other community organizations to put on clubs for students, including the Youth Garden Project, Canyon Country Outdoor Education, and the Moab Valley Multicultural Center.
Last year, BEACON was given a bus, opening the range of possibilities for field trips. The program is able to use Grand County School District buses for some transport: for example, taking students to the campus of a partner organization after school. School district drivers operate the buses. Having its own bus means BEACON can plan field trips outside the schedule of when school district vehicles are available.
Last year, students used the BEACON bus to visit area dinosaur tracks and the rock climbing boulders at Lions Park. The bus also allowed for an equine therapy club for middle schoolers. Twice a week, students were bused to the Old Spanish Trail Arena to spend time with horses. This spring, BEACON organizers plan to use the bus to bring kids to outdoor areas they might not otherwise get to visit, like the Poison Spider trail and Courthouse Wash.
The 2020/2021 report includes testimonials from parents and teachers who say BEACON benefits kids.
“My daughter has shown an increased desire to get outside and help us with yard work after
attending the Youth Garden Project BEACON club,” one parent wrote. “She has learned to appreciate growing things and taking care of plants. We really appreciate the BEACON clubs and how they expose our children to new and healthy activities.”
Most surveyed students who participated in BEACON reported that they learned new things, could get help with homework, and made new friends through the program.
Melissa McKimmey is the elementary programs coordinator and she works directly with students each day. While working on an afternoon art project, a BEACON student recently told her that he couldn’t wait for the same time the next day, so that he could be at BEACON again. McKimmey said she especially enjoys snack times, because it’s a break from giving and following instructions that allows her to spend time getting to know the kids—asking them about their day and their interests.
McKimmey said the most popular club right now is chess. Seventeen students have signed up, though there are only 12 spots available.
“That’s the sad part,” McKimmey said. Waitlists of five to 10 students are common, in part because it’s hard to retain part-time staff during hours that don’t match easily with other jobs, and in part because more kids and parents are interested in participating in BEACON.
In addition to offering affordable childcare and enriching activities for kids, BEACON can help kids who are struggling with their classes.
According to a 5th grade teacher quoted in the report, “The tutors are capable and work alongside the classroom teacher so that the student has a better understanding and is able to catch up.”
BEACON has recently expanded the tutoring aspect of the program, with academic help offered for a wider range of grades and the addition of peer-tutoring. They’re seeking a part-time academic tutor for elementary school grades.
BEACON is also looking to hire several other positions, including part-time leads for the middle school and the charter school. Leads work with kids to provide academic assistance and enrichment clubs. Also open is a part-time activity leader position for elementary school kids. The organization is also offering two full-time positions: a teen programs manager and a Helen M. Knight Elementary School site coordinator. Volunteers who can teach a skill or help out at a club or event are also always welcome. BEACON maintains a ratio of one adult supervisor per 12 kids, or one adult for every six kids in tutoring settings. That ratio means some kids who register for clubs have to be put on a waiting list. Odland said that with more staff, the program could accommodate more kids.
The organization is also hoping that with more staff, they can start another program specifically for teachers with children. Some days there’s no school for students, but teachers are attending professional development days or conducting parent/teacher conferences. If those teachers have children of their own, childcare can be hard to find.
“A lot of times, if there’s no school, there’s no child care,” McKimmey said. BEACON wants to offer care for the children of school district staff on those days.
BEACON began its annual fundraising campaign in November of 2021, and has raised about half of its $10,000 goal. The campaign ends in March.
“BEACON is funded through federal grants and the rest of the support comes from our annual campaign and financial support from local businesses,” said Lindsey Bartosh, family and community outreach coordinator for BEACON.
“We’ve had a lot of business donations this time of year, which is exciting,” Odland said.
Donations can be made online at www.moabbeacon.net/donate-1, or by checks payable to BEACON Afterschool mailed to 264 South 400 East. All donors will receive a BEACON supporter sticker; donors of larger amounts may receive decal stickers, tote bags, and yard signs. Donations are used to purchase snacks, supplies, and books.