A dance studio in Florida. A martial arts center in Missouri. Libraries in San Francisco. These places and others are taking on a somewhat unlikely new role this fall: welcoming children for supervised distance learning while their parents go to work.
With many schools still closed by the coronavirus pandemic, public and private alternatives are popping up across the country to monitor children while in school.
The sites offer a lifeline for families who struggled to learn virtually last spring, but organizers admit they are a poor substitute for schools with professional educators. And by inviting students to gather in new spaces, experts say, the programs risk subjecting caregivers to the same dangers of viruses that have closed schools.
“It creates the same situation as if the children were in school,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, epidemiologist at Florida International University. “So the only way it works is to know everyone in that group, a very small group, and everyone is tested and tested negative. “
Younger children and those with special needs are most at risk of regressing when not in class. Risk and behavior specialist Dr Sweta Chakraborty spoke to LX News about preventing “developmental detours” for students during the pandemic.
When schools in Broward County, Florida announced their intention to start the new year with distance learning, dance studio owner Katie Goughan immediately recognized the challenges for working parents. Its Dance Explosion Co. in Hollywood, Florida has hired a substitute teacher who is on-site from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. to keep students on task. The studio charges $ 150 per week, or a daily rate of $ 35.
“I thought to myself, ‘What would my parents have done with me? ”, Said Goughan. “I wanted to alleviate the stress parents might be going through right now trying to find a place for their kids to do their homework. “
The studio, which can accommodate 30 students, currently has 10 children during the day, all wearing masks, along with temperature controls and plenty of hand sanitizer.
Jennifer Quisenberry, 37, nurse practitioner, sends her 6-year-old daughter, Audra, to a “distance learning camp” at Premier Martial Arts in Wildwood, Missouri. Her daughter’s district is starting the year virtually, and she and her husband, who works for a car dealership, have struggled to care for their children since schools closed. With no family available to help her, she struggled to sleep before finding the martial arts center, which is owned by a former high school teacher.
“We cannot not come to work,” she said. “My partners said I can bring Audra to work. But a hospital is not an ideal setting for a 6-year-old child in the midst of a pandemic. “
As well-to-do parents turn to ‘learning modules’ and private tutors, many schemes put in place by nonprofits and local governments are designed for low-income families.
One innovation to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic is the concept of “pods” – small groups of families who essentially quarantine themselves together following the same social distancing rules. Now some parents are applying this concept to education and forming school groups to teach their children in small groups. However, the entrance fee is high. NBCLX’s Cody Broadway reports.
In Philadelphia, city officials announced Thursday they will open 31 drop-off sites at community centers, housing administration properties and libraries for parents who need someone to supervise children attending. virtual lessons. The program will focus on families who need it most, including those who cannot afford child care and those who do not have Internet access at home.
San Francisco is creating “community learning centers” at 40 sites across the city to help with distance learning for children who are poor, homeless, in foster care or learning English as a second language.
In Kansas City, Missouri, the Parks Department is working with the Boys and Girls Club and Camp Fire Heartland group to provide virtual learning to hundreds of students. For participants of public schools in Kansas City, the city’s poorest neighborhood, the program is free.
“It’s tough for parents of school-aged kids who are too old to go to preschool, and hiring a babysitter or nanny isn’t an option for their finances,” Roosevelt said. Lyons, deputy director of operations for the parks department.
In Orlando, which runs distance education programs at community centers across the city, families will pay just $ 5 a day or nothing if they qualify for government-subsidized lunches.
“Some parents are not computer literate so they are very grateful,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. “There is also the social aspect. There are eight other students, so you get that social interaction and don’t feel so isolated.
Kansas City-area daycare owner Megan Huffman has been inundated with calls from parents begging her to enroll their school-aged children. She may be able to add kindergarten children and student siblings to her Rising Sun Learning Center, which has a facility in Missouri and another in Kansas.
But she said her own experience offering virtual education to children of staff members last spring was far from ideal, and she planned to send her own 6 and 8-year-olds to a private school offering education. in person.
Hundreds of millions of students in other countries have resumed their education amid the coronavirus pandemic, with varying success from country to country.
“Trying to get 20 children from six or seven grades to work in 10 districts is almost impossible,” she said. “The daycare was open every day during the pandemic. If it’s that dangerous, it doesn’t make sense that daycares are open and schools can’t open.
Carrie Hutchcraft, Executive Director of Magic House, an interactive children’s museum located in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, offers a virtual learning program that can accommodate approximately 80 students each day. Her own 9 and 7 year old children will be among the participants.
When schools closed, she made her own work a priority, believing her children already had almost a year of education under their belt. Now five more months have passed.
“I feel like they’ve already fallen behind in learning new things last year, but we can’t do it again,” she said.
Frisaro reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Associated Press editor Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia also contributed to this report.