PANAMA-Despite a lack of funding, the Panama afterschool program will continue with the help of a local church.
The Panama United Methodist Church will be hosting Panama Central School District's afterschool program at its building for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
According to Bert Lictus, Panama superintendent, the change in the program's location is due to a cut in funding through a grant the district had received. Since then, he said the school district has worked closely to supply Panama United Methodist with the resources it needs to implement the services students would have received from the school.
Joan Milroy, left, and Sandy Crossley, former Panama Central School afterschool teachers, pose in their primary workspace at the Panama United Methodist Church —which will be hosting Panama’s afterschool program beginning in September.
P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti
"I think it'll be a pretty smooth transition," said Lictus. "Other than the location, most families and children won't really notice a difference in services. (Panama United Methodist) was kind and community-oriented enough to pick it up and run it, and we're confident that they'll do a nice job."
Currently slated as an indefinite alternative, the program at the church -now called "Connections"- will run Monday through Friday from 3-5:30 p.m. after the conclusion of classes at Panama. The cost for a student's enrollment in Connections equates to $2 per child per hour. Lictus said the school will be providing transportation to the church for the registered students.
Tabetha Butler, a Connections board member, said members of Panama United Methodist's church council felt called to carry on the program in order to provide a service to the students and their families.
"Bert Lictus contacted us and wanted to know if it would be something that our church would be interested in considering," she said. "Several months ago, we brought it up in front of our church council and discussed it in great length. And we decided that the needs of our children in this community is something that we felt was important for us to take on. At one point, this was Joy Center, which was a preschool that ran on a regular basis, so we had the facility to do it."
Because Connections is being held in a church environment, Butler said the program - though largely similar to its previous incarnation - will be run with a bit of a twist.
"We are definitely going to have this as a Christian program, and we are not going to apologize for that," Butler said. "We're commissioned to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, and one of those things is to take care of our children. It's going to be a way of introducing children to Jesus in kind of a fun way. And, hopefully, it might be something that will stick with them for the rest of their lives."
According to Steven Taylor, pastor at Panama United Methodist, the reasons behind naming the program "Connections" are two-fold.
"One (reason) is because there's a gap between when kids are cared for at school, and when they can be cared for at home. Parents have to work, and so we're connecting that bridge between school and home," said Taylor. "And also, we're connecting kids, and their families and our community with their faith. So, it's a two-way connection."
Taylor added the program will operate in what the Panama United Methodist congregation calls a "safe sanctuary."
"There are windows in every door," he said. "We have defined policies for the safety of children and vulnerable adults. So, as we bring 25 kids into the building, there is a policy in place to keep them safe while they're here."
Adding to the familiarity is the program's retainment of its instructors. Sandy Crossley and Joan Monroy, both former afterschool teachers with the Panama Central School District, will be conducting the afterschool sessions at Panama United Methodist. Crossley said the Connections program will feature a variety of instructional games and outdoor activities. She said there will be only occasional instances of television watching during poor weather conditions.
"Our philosophy is sort of learning while playing; playing is learning," said Crossley.
Students and parents who may be interested in registering for the Connections program may do so by filling out the registration form available at both the Panama school district website at www.pancent.org, or the Panama United Methodist Church website at www.panamaum.org. Registration must be completed by the first day of school.
For more information, contact the Panama United Methodist Church at 782-4031 or by email at email@example.com.