City May Expel Belle Haven After-School Program

Parents of children in the program say the only alternative, the Boys & Girls Club, is not a safe place for their kids.

Isis Contreras has lived in Menlo Park all her life and has two children enrolled in the Belle Haven After-School Program. Isaiah is in first grade, and Gianni will enter kindergarten this year. 

Next year, her kids might be forced to go to the Boys & Girls of the Peninsula’s after school program, an option that does not sit well with her.

“This feels awful,” Contreras said. “When they’re handing out all this money for things in West Menlo Park,” she said, her voice trailing off. “Our children’s educational opportunities are on the line here.”

Menlo Park staff are ruminating ways to save the city money this fiscal year, after that funds multiple social services in town. City staff identified the After-School Program as something expendable during a study session with City Council on January 30, 2012.

Public records show the city spends a net of $323,000 per year to run the program and it’s affiliated summer camp at the . This includes the cost of subsidizing the after-school program’s fee for low-income parents who reside in Menlo Park. Children from San Carlos, Redwood Shores, and Palo Alto are also enrolled. 41 kids, ranging in grade level from kindergarten to fifth grade, were enrolled in 2012, according to a report presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission on May 16. More than half of them attend

City staff proposed the idea of sending these children to the , a of the Peninsula center. The clubhouse would charge the city $60,000 to merge its after-school program with the Belle Haven Program.

While the two provide similar services, parents say the city should consider what is being provided by both programs before discarding one. They raised some serious concerns in a candid conversation with Patch Friday.

Menlo Park Mom Kimberly Betts said she doesn't want to send her children to the Boys and Girls Club, because club is so disorganized that employees do not know when the kids are there. Recently, one of her friends asked her to pick up their child from the Boys & Girls Club. When she arrived and asked where the child was, the staff member did not know.

"A kid over heard me asking for the child, so they took me to my friends'
daughter," she said. "I then walked out—no sign out. No staff/ adult knew I even left with the child...That was a big concern for me," she said, noting she is not comfortable leaving her children at a place where something like that would occur.

"Yes the Belle Haven After school/summer camp may charge a little more. But, when I walk up, they let my kids know that mom is here. I like knowing they know who my child is and know who is supposed to be picking them up," she said.

In addition to this, the type of help with schoolwork is discernibly different between the two programs, she said. Her children have been in the Belle Haven program and going to the summer camps for the past five years. She credits the staff there with improving her son's performance in school.

“The staff does more than just watch our kids until we are off from work," she said. "They also work really hard with the kids on the homework.” Her son went from getting 40s on his spelling test to a 95 after they helped him, she said.

Elimination of the Belle Haven Program would reduce the after-school program options in East Menlo Park to one. In comparison, 19 after school programs are available to students. Most of the students who attend those programs reside in West or Central Menlo Park and Atherton. Those programs are not inexpensive, or publicly funded.

East Menlo Park parents say that they would be willing to pay more per month to keep the Belle Haven After-School Program running. Most pay about $60 per month to have their children attend.

However, they say the city is not listening to their wants or needs. Contreras said that no one has contacted the parents to tell them what is going on with the program, other than Natasha Watkins-Lowery, the program coordinator. Programs that keep children safe, out of the streets, and educationally nurtured should be prioritized and preserved, not eliminated, she said. She suspects that the program is on the chopping block, because it is housed on the east side of highway 101.

“You hear about Menlo Park in the news, because of Facebook,” she told Patch. "And up until now, our part of town was always called East Menlo Park. And now it’s Menlo Park,” verbally illustrating the previously unspoken socioeconomic division between residents.

Facebook's in the area is bringing more attention and growth to the area, as the company nestles into its . City staff could not be reached Friday to comment about whether the millions of dollars that will be could be used to supplement the After School Program. City Hall was closed.

“This is heart breaking for them to even consider ending the program,” Betts said. “Our kids deserve to have this kind of program in our neighborhood,” she added.

The Menlo Park City Council is scheduled to make the final decision on the matter at 7 p.m. next Tuesday in Council Chambers, which is located at 701 Laurel in Menlo Park.

Interestingly, the URL to the Belle Haven After-School Program has been removed from the city's webpage; the phone number assigned to the program's director was disconnected.

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Pat Watkins May 19, 2012 at 01:56 AM
First off the City of Menlo Park "do not" subsidized the after-school program’s fee for low-income parents who reside in Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood Shores, and Palo Alto. Only low income families in Menlo Park are subsidized; but children in the Belle Haven Afterschool do attend schools in Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood Shores, and Palo Alto under the Tinsley Program.


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