SPRING HILL — Bright backpacks were piled high as dozens of kids fanned across the cafeteria Thursday morning. Board games covered tabletops. High-pitched voices filled the room.
It was busier than usual at the YMCA's before-school program at Deltona Elementary. With roughly 85 children now enrolled, the program has seen about a 15 percent increase from last year.
The biggest reason: the Hernando school system's new — and in many cases later — bell times.
That's the case across the district.
A week into the new school year, before- and after-school programs in all of the district's elementary, K-8 and middle schools are seeing a spike in participation.
"(Parents) can no longer drop their kids at school because they already need to be at work themselves," said Josh Kelly, president of the Boys & Girls Club of Hernando County.
The Boys and Girls Club has seen a jump of about 180 students at its six before-school programs, Kelly said. That's about a 30 percent increase, he said. The after-school programs haven't seen a similar bump.
At Westside Elementary, which moved its start time 90 minutes later this year, the program went from 30 kids last year to 74, Kelly said.
The Y has seen a jump of about 100 students, or a 15 percent increase, spread more evenly across its before- and after-school programs, located in 14 district schools.
"It's been quite busy," said Tammy Brinker, the executive director of the Y's school-age programs. "We're still getting new kids each day.
Four elementary schools moved back their start and end times by 11/2 hours. Chocachatti moved its start time back 30 minutes. Others didn't change or had only minor changes. The changes at the K-8 schools ranged from 10 minutes at Challenger to 40 minutes at Winding Waters.
While some parents have complained about the new times, Kelly said, most understood why the district made the changes. The new bell times allowed the district to change bus routes, saving $880,000.
Jennifer Byrne, who has a son at Deltona and a daughter at Spring Hill Elementary, said the new school times are a challenge and that she's had to enroll her son in the Y program as a result.
"They have to be at two schools at the same time," she said. "It's kind of difficult."
Eileen Mastandrea also said she's enrolled her first-grader at Deltona's Y program because of the time change.
"My husband and I both work," she said.
She said it really hasn't posed a problem, however.
"I'm happier that (school) is later for the simple reason that I hated seeing kindergartners walking along the side of Deltona (Boulevard) with no sidewalks," she said
Mastandrea said the Y program was the best bet for her daughter.
"She is not within the bus route. We would have to arrange to drive her to and from school even on the days that we work. That's pretty difficult for working parents."
Not only has the Y seen a spike in attendance, it's also seen a jump in the number of scholarships it is giving out to families who cannot afford the fee of $40 to $53 a week.
"We do definitely have a huge increase," Brinker said.
She said that roughly 70 percent of students now qualify for assistance.
Last year, the Y gave out roughly $100,000 more than expected. This year, she anticipates the organization will give out even more.
Kelly said the need for scholarships at the Boys and Girls Club also has increased in line with the higher attendance numbers.
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432.