Long after school’s out for the day, the gym at Westside Elementary School is a scream of activity. Kids bean each other with dodge balls, whiz across the floor on scooters, chase each other, bounce up and down on rubber balls, build mat forts in a corner, beg for more snacks, whine over misplaced backpacks, rejoice over found backpacks, and yell across the room.
Presiding over this hurricane is Ellen Trichter, director of the Prime Time program at Westside. She switches on her headset and her voice booms over the loudspeaker.
“Keep the scooters on the ground, please,” she says, then switches it off because a boy with a bloody nose needs her. She nurses the bloody nose, talks to a grandparent, does some quick math with a parent who is there to pay and files away the check, finds a lost book, and hands out hugs indiscriminately.
It’s all in an afternoon’s work for Trichter.
“I love it,” she says. “I love my job.”
Prime Time is an after-school program offered at all the elementary schools in Hood River and the valley. It was started in 1985 when Community Education Director Mike Schend saw a need for after-school child care at the schools.
“We were getting a lot of parent requests,” he says. Parents wanted a safe place for their kids to be for the 2 to 3 hours after school ended and before they got home from work. Schend launched the program at Westside and response was so favorable, a second program was instigated at Mid-Valley Elementary. Prime Time at Parkdale followed. Kids at Pine Grove Elementary are bussed to the Prime Time at Mid-Valley. Until now, kids at May Street Elementary were bussed to the Prime Time at Westside, but May Street got its own Prime Time program last month. May Street kids who were going to Westside can continue doing that, but several have already switched to their own school’s Prime Time program.
Parents pay $1.90 per hour for Prime Time if they’re registered full time — meaning their kids attend Prime Time three or more days a week. For kids who only attend one or two days a week, it’s $2.05 per hour. The cost includes snacks, arts and crafts supplies, games — “It’s all-inclusive,” Schend says. The program runs from the minute school lets out until 5:30 p.m., although parents can pick up their kids anytime during the afternoon. The program even accepts drop-ins, as long as the required paperwork has been filled out and is on file.
“It’s pretty hard to turn this down,” he says. “We’re getting parents who really appreciate having it.”
Westside has by far the largest Prime Time program, with more than 70 kids on the roster. Mid-Valley has about 30 kids enrolled, and Parkdale has 25. About a dozen kids are so far enrolled in the May Street Prime Time, but that’s sure to rise as the program gets up and running.
Each Prime Time has its own director, like Trichter, who is responsible for every aspect of the program at his or her school — including the accounting. Directors follow a basic schedule of activities, but it varies from day to day. Along with exercise and games, quiet time is allotted — and space provided — for kids to work on homework or read.
“But it’s a non-academic program,” Schend says. “(The kids) have been sitting for six hours. We want to make it fun for them.”
Trichter, like most Prime Time directors, has a background in child care. She worked for a day care for years before taking over Westside’s Prime Time 16 years ago. She’s kept in touch with many of the kids who went through her Prime Time program and have now graduated from high school.
Trichter has several aides who assist her — most of them young people who like kids and are considering going in to education or some other field related to children. But the ultimate responsibility for Prime Time comes down to the directors.
And for Trichter, it’s a responsibility she relishes.
“I know all the kids, I know all the parents, I know all the brothers’ and sisters’ names,” she says. “For me, it’s developing a personal rapport with each child. I try to connect with each one every day.”
With at least 40-50 kids in Westside’s Prime Time each day, that’s no easy task. But as most of the kids will attest, she seems to succeed at it.
“Ellen’s really nice and she’s funny and she has a good sense of humor,” says fourth-grader Miranda Olson.
“I always beg my dad to pick me up late so I can stay and play,” says Alicia Everitt, also in fourth grade.
Students aren’t the only ones who appreciate the program — and Trichter.
“Ellen is very kind and really connects with the kids,” says Ann Harris, whose son and daughter — in second and fifth grades respectively — attend Prime Time two days a week. The program was one of the main reasons Harris returned to work as director of youth education ministries at Riverside Church two years ago.
“I don’t ever worry,” she says. “Having the flexibility and knowing I had a good place for them to be was a big thing that allowed me to go back to work.” Like other kids in the program, Harris’s children beg her to let them stay longer when they’re there.
“They’re excited when it’s Prime Time day,” she says.
Amid the beaning, whizzing, chasing, bouncing, building, begging, whining, rejoicing and yelling, that is Trichter’s main objective.
“The kids are happy and safe and having fun,” she says. “What else could you want?”
For more information, or to register for Prime Time, call Community Education at 386-2055 or any of the elementary schools.