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Youth athletic programs would be thrown for a loss by strike

The Rogue Valley Family YMCA will be forced to cancel all of its basketball practices and games held at Medford schools and relocate its after-school activities if a strike occurs Thursday, said YMCA Executive Director Brad Russell.

Medford School District officials told Russell schools would be closed to all outside programs and events for "safety and security" reasons in the event of a strike.

A state mediator met separately with school district officials and the Medford Education Association for nearly nine hours Tuesday and were to resume negotiations today in an effort to avoid a strike.

As part of its strike action plan, the district has opted to consolidate schools; cancel all extracurricular activities, except high school sports; hire substitutes to cover for unionized teachers on strike; close schools Thursday and Friday, Feb. 6-7, and Monday, Feb. 11; and shorten the length of the school day to about four hours, Superintendent Phil Long announced last week.

Sixteen Medford schools host YMCA basketball practices at least once a week, and four of those — Oak Grove, Griffin Creek, Wilson and Abraham Lincoln elementary schools — host games on Saturdays.

If teachers strike, all practices and games at those locations will be canceled, affecting more than 330 first- through sixth-grade students.

Andrea James, who coaches the third- and fourth-grade girls' basketball team at Griffin Creek Elementary, said her team is really frustrated.

"They've only played two games," she said. "They are just getting into the groove of it, and to put a halt to that is devastating and heartbreaking."

All YMCA basketball events not held at Medford schools will continue as usual, as will kindergarten basketball which is offered at the YMCA, Russell said.

Nine schools currently host the YMCA's after-school programs. During the strike, these programs will continue but from the YMCA's home base at 522 W. Sixth St., Medford.

The YMCA closed its gymnasium and youth center two months ago for remodeling but reopened the gym in January and will reopen the youth center Thursday — three weeks ahead of schedule — so there's room for about 150 kids, Russell said.

On the three days that schools will be closed, the YMCA will offer full-day, "camp-like" programs from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. for Medford students whose parents are working and unable to keep them home, Russell said.

When classes resume Tuesday, Feb. 11, the YMCA will offer half-day programs to complement the schools' modified schedules.

"For example, if you have kids going to school in the morning and letting out at noon, parents could transport them here for our afternoon program," Russell said.

Preregistration is required. The full-day program costs $25 for families that are not enrolled in the YMCA's after-school program and $13 for the half-day program.

"If the strike is resolved before next Tuesday, we would refund the money to those registered," Russell said.

"We're trying our best to be part of the solution during this modified schedule. It's certainly frustrating."

On days schools are closed, America's Best Kids also will offer day camps, in lieu of its typical Afterschool Adventure Academy. Hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., said Chris Blache, ABK's vice president.

Tutors will be available, computer labs open and lots enrichment activities offered, including gymnastics, karate and dance, he said.

Parents can register their kids online at www.abkfun.com or by calling 541-245-0432.

The Medford Parks and Recreation Department also decided to offer camps for students ages 5 to 14 on the three days schools might be closed.

These camps would be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Santo Community Center and would include sports, games, art, music and other activities. Registration costs $20 a day and is limited to 30 students on a first-come, first-served basis. Register online at www.playmedford.com or by calling 541-774-2400.

Unlike the YMCA, Kids Unlimited will not be able to relocate its after-school programs.

VIBES Public Charter School meets at Kids Unlimited's Riverside campus for about 10 hours a day and will continue to do so, said Tom Cole.

"We really don't have another campus that could accommodate the kids displaced by the strike," he said.

Cole said he is working with the district and is looking for ways for his staff to connect with some at-risk students during the strike, either by meeting them at school or at their homes.

"We have some children who we believe we provide a critical role, whether that be providing academic support, case management for mental health services or family support," Cole said.

"We all have to adapt and modify what we do in order to best serve during these circumstances."

Russell said his staff have reported that children's behaviors have been getting worse as the strike approaches.

"Children are feeling uneasy and a little lost as they hear lots of different things," he said. "Different school, different teacher, different routine. Different. Different. Different."

Cole commented that his staff also has recognized tension and a lack of mental focus among the students.

"These kids don't understand the dynamics around the negotiations and why one group is advocating a particular position, but they do feel its effects," he said.

"Decisions are being driven by adult needs, but their ramifications are being felt by the kids. That's the sad irony of it."

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or by email at tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Andrea James leads a basketball drill during Rogue Valley Family YMCA practice at Griffin Creek Elementary School Tuesday. The YMCA will have to cancel all practices and games at Medford schools if teachers strike Thursday.