School wouldn't be starting for another hour, but by 8 a.m. on Sept. 8, the cafeteria at Mays Chapel Elementary was alive with children playing games, using laptop computers, doing environmental projects and science experiments, and lining up to wash their hands before snack time.
It was another weekday morning for Hot Spots, a before- and after-school child care program at Mays Chapel.
"It's fun," said fifth grader Kyle Kennedy. "We do lots of experiments. We did something about the Earth."
Hot Spots, a privately run program, is open for business at Mays Chapel, albeit nearly a week behind schedule, which initially sent some working parents into a panic.
The program, which is officially licensed as Hot Spots Extended Care Programs Inc. of Mays Chapel Elementary, was supposed to open Aug. 28, the second day of school, but couldn't because the program didn't have its state operating license at the time.
A state inspector cited exposed wiring in the ceilings of the school cafeteria and gymnasium, where Hot Spots meets, and also where overhead lights were still being installed in the newly built school. That led to an unexpected delay in issuing the license and left the parents of 85 children in the program scrambling to make other arrangements.
"If it goes into next week, I don't know what I'm going to do," said Amy Spencer, whose daughter Torunn, 5, is a kindergartner at Mays Chapel. Spencer said family members were helping to take care of Torunn during the day, but that her daughter was feeling anxious in the process, asking, "Am I going to day care? Am I going to Gram and Pops?"
"The mornings are a tremendous issue,' said Jodie Cohen, whose son, Harrison, 5, is also a kindergartner at Mays Chapel. She, too, said family members have helped out, but she added, "I've had to take time off work."
The license was issued Sept. 3, confirmed Bill Reinhardt, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education. The Hot Spots program opened the next day, one of five in Baltimore County public schools.
By Monday, everyone was happy, except maybe for a still-sleepy kindergartner named Natalie, who clung to her mother, Karen Mason.
Mason, who commutes to work for an insurance company in Northern Virginia, said she loves the program and its hours, and she shrugged off last week's inauspicious start.
"It was a little challenging," she said but added that the delay in licensing the program was understandable. "it's a brand new school. You have to be flexible."
Hot Spots Extended Care Programs, a nonprofit company that runs programs in 10 area public schools, including the five in Baltimore County, was created by Lutherville-based Celebree Learning Centers, a for-profit company.
Celebree started Hot Spots at the request of parents with kids in Celebree who wanted school-based child care programs.
"That's how we were born," said Emily Gordon, executive director of the Hot Spots program at Mays Chapel.
Students arrive as early as 7 a.m., to Mays Chapel and leave their backpacks and other belongings in a specially marked area. In fact, there are specially marked areas all over the cafeteria, from a lounge and a Wi-Fi cafe with computers to a study hall and a Spotlight section for artistic projects. Hot Spot participants also can use the gym next door.
Hot Spots is also available after school until 6 p.m.
"This is not just playtime," Gordon said. "It's really about enrichment and allowing them to apply their learning outside of the classroom."
For parents like Tyslie Webster, it's also about convenience. Webster moved to the Mays Chapel area in July and is looking for a job. She said her daughter, Emmy "seems to love it. She has friends here from her classes."
It's convenient for students, too. Aman Bhogal, a fourth-grader, commutes to the school from Owings Mills. He said his family is moving to the area in a few months, but, in the meantime, he can get his homework done in the Hot Spots study hall.