Nearly an hour after school let out on a recent afternoon, all was mostly quiet in the cafeteria of Ralph Dunlap Elementary in Orcutt, where backpacks were heaped in piles on the tile floor.
A father just off work walked in from the parking lot, and was immediately greeted by name. A staff walkie-talkie call and sign-out signature later, and his daughter happily appeared through a back entrance that led to the warm, sunny playground.
Those who run the Orcutt Union School District Campus Connection after-school program say that’s the way the child-care service has worked the past 20 years.
Working parents seeking an affordable child-care option for their kids in kindergarten through sixth grade can pay a fee to drop them off at school anytime after 6:30 a.m. and then pick them up through 6 p.m. Students are given quiet, homework time, indoor or outdoor activities, and even snacks.
The model must be working, because Campus Connection is celebrating its 20th anniversary this school year and serving nearly as many students as ever.
Former Orcutt Superintendent Jack Garvin said it’s hard to believe that many years have passed since the self-sustaining program was started as a pilot after brainstorming with Grant Haley, Peggy Sanders, Judy Teague, Sharilyn Ross, former director Charlotte Clements and Jeanette Schneider.
Garvin told Noozhawk that he realized a need for the service after witnessing the obstacles his daughter experienced in finding consistent, reliable child care.
“That’s always a concern for parents who are working and working long hours,” he said. “The program just took off. Everybody just recognized this was a real need in the community. I’m really proud of what we did with Campus Connection. It really amazed me how well the program was received.”
Schneider, who has been a program site coordinator since the beginning, said about 900 students are enrolled at the district’s five elementary schools, near an all-time high of 1,000.
Not much about the program has changed because it’s been effective, she said, adding that at least now bookkeeping can be kept electronically instead of all by hand.
Now at Ralph Dunlap, Schneider said it’s common for parents to pick up their kids after commuting home from Santa Barbara, Goleta or Vandenberg Air Force Base.
“Economic times will dictate the program,” she said. “I love my families. I’m very happy it’s going well. Wow, 20 years already. It’s gone fast.”
Parents watching their young children make their way to colorful backpacks reiterated gratitude for the program, which is hopefully around at least another 20 years.
“I can sum it up in two words: It’s great,” said Eli Martinez, who was picking up his kindergartner daughter after work. “It’s very convenient. They do a good job with the kids.”