After school learning is goal National Geographic, Sylvan join in program for latch-key kids; School rooms would be used; Scope is nationwide; pilots to start in Baltimore next year


Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. and the National Geographic Society said yesterday that they are teaming up to offer a nationwide after-school program that would give latch-key kids a place to learn and have fun until their parents get off work.

Held in school facilities from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., the Sylvan/National Geographic After School program is scheduled to get under way early next year with pilot programs in the Baltimore area and possibly in Los Angeles.

"If there's one problem with programs existing today, they tend to be places to leave kids where you know they'll be safe as opposed to educational programs or enriching programs," Douglas L. Becker, co-chief executive officer of Sylvan, said from his headquarters in Baltimore.

"Having National Geographic as a partner is a pretty quick answer for ensuring this is going to be exciting for kids," Becker said.

Parents would pay for their children to take part in an after-school curriculum of "hands-on experiments and exploration activities," the companies said in a joint announcement.

"This is a substantial new direction for the National Geographic Society, and one about which we are extremely enthusiastic," society President Reg Murphy said in the release.

"We are confident that the combination of the National Geographic Society's content and Sylvan's expertise in high quality education programs makes this a very attractive opportunity for students and their parents."

State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said she would "encourage school administrators throughout Maryland and across the country to explore how this program may be offered through their schools."

Education experts say caring for children in the hours between the end of the school day and the end of the workday is a mushrooming need for parents around the country.

"We're seeing a huge increase over the past couple of decades in the number of single-parent homes and the number of homes in which both parents are working," said Gary Marx of the American Association of School Administrators, which has about members.

Texas program expands

While many neighborhood organizations or individual school districts have developed their own after-school programs, only one other nationwide effort seems to be under way, Marx said.

The Voyager Expanded Learning program of Dallas, Texas, has expanded to about 100 schools in Texas, Indiana, Washington ** and New Mexico in the past two years.

Becker said he learned of the concept while attending industry conferences early this year. Sylvan already has a national network of more than 600 learning centers that provide instruction to children and adults alike, and it administers more than 1,000 centers for educational and professional testing.

Once the company decided to branch into after-school care, Becker said, Sylvan considered several partners. But National Geographic was the first choice, he said. And the society was immediately receptive.

"I think it's very attractive because it basically speaks to what National Geographic has been doing since its creation," said Nina Hoffman, senior vice president of publications for the society. "It's an extension of the mission of the society, which is to diffuse geographic knowledge."

Much already done

Hoffman said National Geographic has convened focus groups and tested possible activities in an effort to develop materials for the curriculum.

The society will create "activity packages" from its vast educational resources -- a library of 10 million images, its Web site and online programs, its CD-ROM, curriculum materials and more.

Sylvan will staff the effort and handle day-to-day administration.

The program will arrange partnerships with public and private schools to allow access to facilities after classes end. There will be no charge to the schools.

Becker said the company hasn't determined how much parents will pay for the service, but he expects the fees to be as affordable as existing after-school care programs or even cheaper. And he said Sylvan would help schools find state and federal funds to provide discounts or scholarships to poor children.

"This program will not work if it's just available to a select group of kids," Becker said.

He said Sylvan has been in contact with "some of the large suburban districts in the state of Maryland" about establishing pilot programs by early next year.

The Baltimore city school district "has also expressed an interest in us working with them," he said.

If the pilots go well, the full national program would gear up next fall, he said.

The Voyager program in Texas is finding great demand in the marketplace, according to company CEO Vernon Johnson. "We are receiving calls daily from school districts across the country," he said.

The Voyager program is different in that it provides materials and a curriculum to school officials, who staff the effort themselves.

Christian Hansen, a spokeswoman for the Family Research Council advocacy group in Washington, said such programs may not be as desirable as having kids spend time with parents. But they're better than the alternative.

"A lot of children like to come home and play Nintendo, so anything related to books and learning is a positive impact on a child's life," Hansen said.

Pub Date: 12/20/96

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