As the pandemic hangover continues, after-school programs are feeling the effects of staff shortages and low enrollment numbers across Columbia.

Adventure Club, an after-school program based in elementary school cafeterias, is experiencing significant staffing shortages, according to Greta Hake, coordinator for the club’s programming and curriculum.

“Compared to last year’s staff numbers, Adventure Club has gone from 24 full-time staff members to 12 full-time staff members,” Hake said in an email earlier this month.

Student enrollment is also only about 60% of what it was pre-pandemic. Hake said 1,079 students were enrolled in March 2019, “and as of Nov. 16, enrollment sits at 656 students.”

Before the pandemic, Adventure Club was based in all 21 elementary schools in Columbia Public Schools. Now, because of low enrollment and interest, only 13 schools have Adventure Club programs, she said.

Centro Latino, an after-school program that mainly serves immigrant and Latino students, is also seeing a large decrease in enrollment. The center had an average of 25 students attending after-school programming before the pandemic; now, five students are enrolled.

“When the pandemic started in March 2020, we stopped all programs to keep everyone safe,” said Centro Latino Executive Director Eduardo Crespi. “We just started our tutoring program back up a few weeks ago and are hoping enrollment increases as COVID-19 numbers continue to decrease.”

Centro Latino strives to provide one-on-one tutoring with students and any other academic assistance children need. Volunteers pick up students at their schools and bring them to Centro Latino, so parents don’t need to worry about transportation. Students also have the option of being dropped off at home if their parents can’t make it in time to pick them up.

The center transitioned to online tutoring during the height of the pandemic but is back to in-person programming. Staffers hope to see an increase in enrollment soon.

“Our main goal is to serve underprivileged populations within Columbia,” said Anna Jones, program coordinator for Centro Latino. “We want to have a safe space for children to feel accepted and welcome, regardless of who they are.”

Parents often depend on transportation provided by schools and after-school programs so they don’t have to worry about leaving work to drive their kids back and forth.

Felisha Grimm, a district parent, used to enroll her children in Adventure Club so they had afternoon supervision while she finished up her work day. Because the club isn’t running at her children’s schools this year, she picks them up and takes them to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbia instead.

“My daughter especially really misses going to Adventure Club,” Grimm said. “The Boys and Girls Club is great, but there aren’t buses to take kids from school to the club, so having to drive them around has been a new change.”

According to its website, the Boys and Girls Clubs provide five core programs for 6- to 18-year-olds that focus on character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, sports, fitness and recreation, and fine arts. It has been affected by the shortage in school bus drivers because students traditionally take the buses to get to the clubs.

“Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbia is working on a number of solutions in an effort to help kids gain access to the critical after-school programming they’ve come to depend on throughout the years,” Erik Anderson, the club’s interim CEO, said in an October news release.

In a local Facebook thread related to school bus issues, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbia said it was making a private page so parents could arrange carpooling. Last month, the club resumed 15-passenger van routes to pick up students from Oakland and Lange middle schools, Anderson said in an email.

More recent information on the club’s transportation situation wasn’t immediately available Tuesday.

  • Youth Reporter, fall 2021 Studying magazine journalism Reach me at sadhnh@umsystem.edu or, in the newsroom at 882-5700

  • Elizabeth Brixey is the Columbia Missourian's education editor and an associate professor in the Missouri School of Journalism. She can be reached at (573) 882-2632 and brixeye@missouri.edu.

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