November 20, 2023
ROBBINSVILLE, NJ (MERCER)–When Reina Albert – a seventh grader at Pond Road Middle School, was a pre-kindergartener attending the Robbinsville Extended Day (R.E.D.) program, she didn’t want to miss a day – especially when an older Robbinsville student was teaching sign language.
“She loved the program,” her mother, Celeste Albert, said. “As does my son, Stuart, a third grader who attends now.”
Being a working parent has so many challenges, Albert said. R.E.D. is there, she said, helping working Robbinsville parents balance all their responsibilities.
“It’s a win-win,” Albert said. “Our students get to learn new skills, meet new friends and get homework help. They are also are being cared for and watched over, so that parents can work.”
The 12-year-old, for-profit program at Sharon Elementary School is available for parents who need before- and after-school care. But please don’t quickly dismiss the program as a babysitting service, said Pamela Elmi, R.E.D. founder and director.
Offering “true enrichment” for the more than 170 participants in grades K-8, Elmi said, enrichment programming is offered in addition to childcare. This fall, R.E.D. has a slate of programs that includes yoga, science, hockey, financial literacy, soccer and cooking, as well as tutoring and homework help.
The curriculum is anything but “cookie-cutter,” she stressed.
“Our programs and people are what make it unique,” Elmi explained. “I base the curriculum on the interesting people that come and join us. Anyone can sign up for the enrichment or tutoring even if they don’t need the childcare. The program is now 50% childcare-50% community education.”
Jennifer Broyles’ daughters are also big fans of the program. Third-grader Elizabeth Broyles and first-grader Nora Broyles have been able to make many new friendships.
“Sharon is a large school, so maintaining consistent friendships can be a challenge. But R.E.D. has given them a chance to experience a more enduring type of relationship,” Broyles said. “R.E.D. has been a wonderful experience.”
“As a working parent it is incredibly difficult to find trustworthy care before and after school,” Broyles said. “We also really enjoy the sense of community we get from driving up to the school in the morning, and the warm greeting we receive from Jill the security guard – it makes for a nice transition into the day. Additionally, the R.E.D. teachers are warm and caring, providing many fun activities.”
The R.E.D. program was the brainchild of the late Steven Mayer, who had served as Superintendent of Schools.
“R.E.D. was his baby,” Elmi said. “It is part of his legacy. His idea was to start something brand new just for Robbinsville. While I was the person to do the job, it is his vision. His spirit is in everything we do.”
The program has continued to receive strong support through Schools Superintendent Brian Betze, who is committed to building on the original vision.
R.E.D. embraces flexibility for working parents. Fees are on a sliding scale based on how often children attend. Scholarships are available for children that participate in the free or reduced lunch programs. R.E.D. offers care from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. with breakfast and then after school, from 3 to 6 p.m.
Prior to R.E.D., the before- and after-school care was outsourced, not an ideal situation. In setting up R.E.D., parents and the greater school community were consulted. Many focus groups were held to design the right program for both parents and students.
The program is run by the school district. Revenue supports initiatives, such as funding a playground at Sharon Elementary School and a new school bus.
From the start, Elmi said, she recruited school district personnel to staff R.E.D.
“They already knew the kids and knew the curriculum,” she said. “So, there was that consistency for the families as well.”
During the summer, R.E.D. teams up with the township’s recreation department for a camp. R.E.D. provides before- and after-care with academic programming, similar to the school year.
Along with a popular robotics program, R.E.D. offers “Discover Kindergarten,” which prepares children for that first step into the school district. This program introduces the youngsters to the school, reducing anxiety for children and parents.
For Albert, that was “one of the best experiences” for Reina as she entered kindergarten.
“She was able to be in the Sharon School, get to know the building, get to know some teachers and meet new friends that would be in her grade – all before kindergarten started,” Albert said.
“It gets all the tears over and done with before school starts,” Elmi added.
Albert hopes Reina will one day give back to the program; teen students are encouraged to volunteer.
For more information, visit https://www.robbinsville.k12.nj.us, click on “Families” or follow @RvilleRED on “X” (formerly Twitter).
Children enjoy attending R.E.D.’s “Discover Kindergarten,” the district’s most popular summer camp.
In 2018, R.E.D. purchased a school bus for the Robbinsville district.
In 2023, R.E.D. expanded its current S.T.E.M. enrichment programs.
In 2014, the R.E.D program purchased playground equipment for the Sharon
Students who attend R.E.D. has an opportunity to vote in a mock election on Election Day.