A teacher engages with her students at the RCS Caring Steps Children’s Center.

A teacher engages with her students at the RCS Caring Steps Children’s Center.

Photo provided by RCS Caring Steps Children’s Center

Child care for remote learners is a struggle during COVID-19

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published August 25, 2020


ROCHESTER/ROCHESTER HILLS/OAKLAND TOWNSHIP/TROY — Most schools are welcoming students back with virtual learning this fall, leaving many parents to either juggle work along with their child’s online learning or find suitable child care during a worldwide pandemic.

According to a recent study of over 1,200 parents across the nation, 32% of parents are not able to work remotely and have no other choice but to find child care, according to WalletHub.

School districts provide child care during COVID-19
In the Rochester Community Schools District — which will begin remote learning for all students Sept. 1 through Oct. 1 — the RCS Caring Steps Children’s Center remains open for child care.

RCS Superintendent Robert Shaner said he understands the need to have really great daycare in the community.

“I saw that back in April, when the governor issued an executive order to have essential workers have daycare available, and we committed to making sure we set up Caring Steps as quickly as possible, so that we could provide that. We remained committed to that for the entire community,” he said. “The district has so many talented people that are dedicated to not only ensuring that our kids are safe, but that they have good outcomes in their care plans. We know these are really tough times, very emotional times, for parents, and we want them to know that we take our service to them very personally and that we are here for them.”

In early May, the district transformed its Caring Steps Children’s Center — which temporarily shut down in March due to COVID-19 — into a disaster relief child care facility for essential workers, both in and out of the district.

Caring Steps Supervisor Brittany Kunzelman said the center was able to quickly pivot from its traditional program — available for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years — and offer child care all the way up to school-age care for families of essential workers by partnering with the district’s School Age Care program and its caregivers.

“There were a significant amount of people interested in joining for care,” Kunzelman said. “We really worked collaboratively to build this program, which was extremely successful. It was amazing to see the children having fun and being able to step out of the chaos of the world we live in and have a normal routine.”

Caring Steps resumed its regular programming June 17, albeit with a number of new health and safety procedures — including daily health screenings and temperature checks for children and staff, restricting visitors from entering the building to minimize traffic and exposure, and the addition of intense cleaning protocols, to name a few.

“We get calls, probably daily, and add to our waitlist, because a lot of other programs unfortunately didn’t survive the pandemic or they are having full-time enrollment only. We are still able to offer our part-time schedule — so anywhere from two days a week, all the way up to five days a week, from birth through 5 years old. We’ve been able to offer a lot of flexibility,” Kunzelman said.

At press time, Kunzelman said, there were still some spaces available for fall child care at Caring Steps.

Although Caring Steps was able to continue offering a school-age program through Aug. 14, School Age Care Supervisor Michael Cardimen said plans had yet to be finalized for the school-year School Age Care program — which traditionally offers child care for school-age children before and after school at 17 buildings throughout the district.

At press time, enrollment for the district’s 2020-21 School Age Care program was temporarily closed while the district assessed community need for child care during remote instruction in September.

“We are, right now, working day and night to figure out the best possible solution for the month of September,” Cardimen explained. “We are planning on opening up our 17 centers starting Oct.1 — provided we go back to in-seat learning. In the meantime, we recognize the community’s need for child care during the month of September, so, right now, we’re putting a lot of important minds together to figure out what the best solution is going to be.”

District officials said information regarding the School Age Care program will be emailed to families in the coming weeks.

In the Avondale Schools district — which is offering remote learning for students through at least Nov. 6 — parents can take advantage of the district’s Early Learning Center, for those in preschool and pre-kindergarten, and the new Busy Bee Fall Remote Learning Camp program, which provides child care to those ages 4-12 from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays at the Avondale Meadows Learning Center.

“A lot of our parents are either in single-parent homes or dual working parents in the same home. Some people don’t have a whole lot of resources — they might not have families that can watch their students during the day or help them with their school work during the day, so this was our answer,” said district spokesperson Annette McAvoy. “Parents have enough to worry about. We don’t want to add to their plate.”

School-age students will be cared for while also having access to technology devices and quiet spaces to participate in their Avondale School District Remote Learning.

“The staff, which is not teaching staff, will help the students get online and make sure they are staying focused and on-task,” McAvoy said. “At the end of the day, it’s not helpful to the families and it’s not helpful to the kids to be at home with no support. They need us.”

The Busy Bee Fall Remote Learning Camp — which costs $125 for the first child and $50 for each additional child per week, not including a $75 registration fee — was full at press time.

“It’s already filled up,” McAvoy said. “We’re trying to figure out how to expand it somehow, but we’re limited because of social distancing. They’ll be in a building that normally accommodates 700 kids and there will be around 75 kids.”

Those interested in signing up for the winter Busy Bee program — which will be offered when the district returns to in-person learning — can request a form starting Oct. 1. For more information, contact Avondale Schools Early Childhood Center Director Tiffany Mellado at (248) 537-6049 or Busy Bee Coordinator Peggy McConnell at (248) 285-2336.

Child care centers, programs adapt to meet need during pandemic
The Goddard School in Rochester Hills is welcoming students in kindergarten-second grade this fall with a new School Age Virtual Learning Support Program.

Sandeep Chada, who owns The Goddard School in Rochester Hills, said the child care facility typically caters to infants through pre-kindergarteners but made some adjustments this year to add classes for those in kindergarten-second grade.

“This school year is going to be a little different because we have a demand for K-2, so we’re adding one or two classes for those children. We’ve already had quite a few families that have already registered,” he said.

Chada said Goddard will act as a “virtual support” for students in the K-2 classrooms, who will log on remotely to the learning programs offered by their home school districts while at the center. He said there will be between 10 and 15 students per class, with one or two teachers, depending on size.

“They will have their regular classes from their home teachers, and we will have a teacher at our school that would do some support activities, help them get online and engage them in outdoor activities after they’re done with their curriculum,” he explained.

The Goddard School, he said, has also made a lot of changes to its protocols in response to COVID-19 — including adding temperature screenings for staff and students, restricting visitors from entering the building to mitigate germs, enhancing its cleaning procedures and adding UV-Aire purifiers that Chada said neutralize airborne viruses, mold and bacteria as they circulate through the ductwork.

For more information about The Goddard School in Rochester Hills, visit www.goddardschool.com or call (248) 218-0709.

The Boys & Girls Club of Troy is offering a new School Day Program open to youth ages 6-18 from all districts in the region starting Sept. 1.

“Typically, we’re open after school and holidays (during the school year), but given that many of the districts are doing remote learning, we’re going to open up a full day,” Boys & Girls Club of Troy Director Jim Evans said. “There’s a pretty decent demand … people are scrambling to find child care, or just plain help with schoolwork.”

Due to social distancing, Evans said, the club is only allowed to enroll around 100 students in the program — which runs 7 a.m.-4 p.m., with afternoon extended hours 4-6 p.m. for an additional cost.

“We’re probably at about 40% capacity so far,” Evans said. “Although it says Troy in our name, we take kids from 40 different communities, so we’re really a regional center. We have kids coming from all over the place, because a lot of people work in Troy.”

Staff members will be present each day to assist with online learning provided by each student’s home district. Although Wi-Fi is provided by the club, each child is expected to bring their own technology for virtual learning.

“Two of our employees are newly certified teachers, so we’re going to have them available to help the kids work through their homework and log in online for lessons with their teacher,” Evans explained.

Students in the School Day Program will also have time to get active in the gym or outdoor play spaces and participate in arts and crafts.

Segment one of the club’s School Day Program runs four weeks — through Friday, Sept. 25. The overall cost for segment one of the School Day Program is $520 — $125 per week and a $20 processing fee, and a family must have an up-to-date $70 yearly club membership to participate.

The club anticipates offering additional segments as school districts decide how long virtual learning will last.

“It’s been a really tough economic year for us,” Evans said. “We’ve lost some of our fundraisers and going from 300 kids a day to 75 (this summer) was very difficult for us financially. We’re trying to stay afloat here, so if folks want to make a donation, they can do that through our website and it would be much appreciated.”

“If schools hold remote learning this fall, this may create a difficult situation where some parents will have to choose between leaving their children unsupervised, paying extra for child care or taking a leave from work,” WalletHub Analyst Jill Gonzalez said in a statement. “Leaving children home alone might not be especially difficult for high schoolers but is not an option for young kids.”

A survey of 2,557 working parents from May 10 to June 22 found that 13% of working parents had to quit a job or reduce hours due to lack of child care. To compound the issue, the child care industry has been decimated by the pandemic, leaving parents with limited options. A recent nationwide survey of parents found that 61% of parents had their child care center close at least temporarily due to COVID-19. Child care centers nationwide are still only operating at 47% of their full capacity, according to the study.

For more information about the Boys & Girls Club of Troy, call the club at (248) 689-1687 or register online at www.bgctroy.org.