Aubrey, a student at Blue Hills Elementary School, said she enjoys being around her teachers and classmates, even when school is out.

A program called Fort Discovery gives her that opportunity.

Whether it’s during the school year or in the summer, four school districts in Eastern Jackson County have before- and after-school programs, which allow elementary school-age students to not only receive supervision while their parents are at work, but continue their education through activities and field trips.

Fort Discovery is the program in the Fort Osage School District; Kids Safari is offered by the Independence School District; Valley Kids is offered by the Grain Valley School District; and Prime Time is the program in the Blue Springs School District.

The programs at all four districts are year round, offering care from kindergarten to fifth grade students during school, in the summer, snow days and during some of the holiday breaks.

Each program has its own activities – some of which take place on the playground, a computer lab, a school gym or elsewhere.

Art projects are a part of all of the programs, as well, including Fort Discovery.

“During Thanksgiving, whenever I was in second grade, we made turkey hats,” Aubrey said. “The one I really liked was when I was in third grade and we made snowflakes out of Q-Tips. But I got too frustrated and I couldn’t do it.”

Added Fort Discovery student Sophia: “We also put spaghetti and marshmallows to make a penguin.”

During the summer, the students get to work on more extensive projects.

“We can do bigger projects because we have them all day,” Fort Discovery coordinator Carol Peppers said. “We do more in-depth crafts. Sometimes they make things out of clay and then they have time to let them dry into the next day.

“Sometimes Home Depot comes in and we do woodworking projects with them.”

Fort Discovery has been in existence since 1984. They offer a variety of games for students to partake in, including board games or various sports. The program runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday during the summer. During the school year, it goes from 6 a.m. until the start of school and then after school until 6 p.m. Fort Discovery has five site locations, three site coordinators and 12 regular staff members.

“The parents know they are right here at school, and they don’t have to be transported anywhere,” Peppers said. “It’s convenient for the parent because they live close by and know their kids are safe.”

Kids Safari

In addition to offering before- and after-school care to elementary school children, Kids Safari offers a program to middle school students at Bridger Middle School for grades 6-8. There’s also a program offered for pre-kindergarten students at Cassell Park, Sante Fe Trail and Sycamore Hills elementary schools. About 1,100 are enrolled.

According to its website, Kids Safari “enhances academic learning through social, creative and life-skill activities in a game and comfortable place before and after school.”

Kids Safari is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer and from 6:30 a.m. until school starts and it ends at 6 p.m. after school.

Erica Smith, the Independence School District assistant director of youth development, said the activities in the program are adjusted based on what the students like at the 18 site locations. Students have time to work on homework during the school year, as well, and some of the activities are based on art, science and reading.

Overall, Smith said the program is a benefit to the host elementary school and the parents.

“It connects the parents and the school,” Smith said. “They pick their kids up and drop them off every day. We get to have personal contact with the parents and build relationships with them. The parents are able to support their kids’ education by being a part of their program.”

Smith said the program has received plenty of positive feedback from parents as well.

“It’s kind of a one-stop shop for them to have their before and after-school care,” Smith said. “They know they have caring individuals here to support their kids. And it helps them support developing their kids learning and social skills.”

Prime Time

Prime Time has been around since 1985 and has site locations at all 13 Blue Springs School District elementary schools. The program goes from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer and from 6 a.m. to the start of school and then resumes at the end of school until 6 p.m.

In addition to arts and crafts and computer lab games, some students have the opportunity to work on cooking projects such as baking cookies and cakes.

When summer school is over, Prime Time takes the children on field trips starting in July. Some of the places they go include PowerPlay Entertainment Center, the Kansas City Zoo, Crown Center and Union Station. The children also get to swim once a week.

“They love field trips, that is their favorite part of the program,” James Walker Elementary site coordinator Janice Smith said.

Like Kids Safari, parents have given positive reviews of the program, Janice Smith said.

“A lot of the parents say they don’t know what they would do without Prime Time,” Janice Smith said. “It’s beneficial for them. They are very appreciative. It’s also very cost friendly.”

Valley Kids

Valley Kids is offered to students kindergarten through fifth grade and has site locations at each of the four elementary schools in the Grain Valley District. The program is year round and runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. with some breaks during the year.

According to the Valley Kids website, the program “is designed to provide the students with social, creative, recreational and life skill development.”

The students participate in various activities including science experiments.

“Every site location does their own thing,’ program coordinator Mattie Haynes said. “They have made fossils out of baking soda and the kids have gotten to make a storm in a jar or like a rainbow in a jar. They have gotten to do really cool stuff.

“At Prairie Branch (Elementary School), they had an Australian day and got to try Australian foods.”

Other unique activities the students have done include taking guitar lessons, receiving hip-hop dance lessons, going to interactive museums and making things out of perler beads.

“A lot of the students are really creative and make cool designs out of perler beads,” Haynes said.

Haynes said she believes the biggest benefit for students is the help they get with developing their social skills.

“For kids who have social anxiety, it helps them with that because they are building relationships,” Haynes said. “You are still in a school setting, but you get to build more relationships with adults.

“The parents like it. We had about 50 more kids registered for this year’s summer program compared to the last one. That’s a huge jump and it continues to grow.”