Coming changes in school-day schedules are leaving the parents of many of St. Paul’s youngest students in need of after-school care, and the city is stepping up to help.

The Parks and Recreation Department has agreed to make its Rec Check program available at 22 recreation centers — two more than in 2018-19 — and it has opened its registration process early.

“We have always been effective partners, but we’re even more so now,” Andy Rodriguez, a recreation programs supervisor, said of the relationship between city and school district.

Rec Check has proved popular because it is free and a place to which the district will bus children after school. In 2018-19, 866 students were enrolled, compared with 567 the year before, said Clare Cloyd, a parks department spokeswoman.

Numbers are expected to rise again as the district finally puts in place its long-awaited changes in school start times.

Later starts for high school

The chief goal of the move, which has been years in the making, was to push back school starts for secondary students from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Research has shown that high schoolers, in particular, can benefit socially and academically when they get more sleep.

But because the district has a three-tier busing system tailored around 7:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. start times, officials had to move a group of schools into the 7:30 a.m. slot ­— and that turned out to be 21 elementary schools that previously began the day at 8:30 a.m.

For those students, an earlier start also means an earlier departure: 2 p.m. for thousands of kids who previously ended their day at 3 p.m.

The flipping of the start time order means that in many cases a younger student no longer will have an older sibling ready to help care for them at home.

In February, district officials reported the results of a parent survey showing that 436 students who did not require after-school care then would need it in the fall. There has been no official update since then.

Rec Check began in the late 1980s to early 1990s as a place for kids to drop in after school to play games, Rodriguez said.

Now, there is more structure. A snack is provided. There are art projects and homework help. With a new 2 p.m. start, Rec Check also could lead children on more off-site activities as well, Rodriguez said.

The program is open to first- through fifth-graders, and registration is required.

To get ahead of demand, the city began registering kids early. Families typically wait until late summer to lock in their slots, but advance registrations show 76 students already enrolled at Langford Park Recreation Center in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood, Cloyd said.

The city’s general fund covers the cost of the program, which had an $800,000 budget this year.

For more information about Rec Check and other after-school options, including the district’s own Discovery Club, go to spps.org/Page/36121.