ELKHART — Child care is a top concern for many working parents who opted to send their children back to school to receive some in-person instruction this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic, local officials say.
All seven public school corporations in Elkhart County are offering a mix of remote and classroom instruction. But with a variety of school schedules across the county in response to the CDC and health department guidelines, many working parents are facing a tough decision of either continuing to work or accommodating their child’s e-learning schedule.
To that end, several local nonprofit organizations have come together to create choices for parents to assist them through the COVID-19 child care crisis.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County, Elkhart Education Foundation and Lifeline Youth Ministries will offer e-learning support and enrichment activities on days that students can’t attend school in person, nonprofit leaders announced at a news conference Wednesday held outside the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce.
KidsCare, a division of the Boys & Girls Club of Elkhart County, is offering before-school care starting at 5:30 a.m. each school day, and attendees are dismissed when school begins. Morning activities include quiet table games, puzzles and free time, as well as optional homework help and reading. Students attending the morning program have the option to participate in the school’s breakfast program.
After-school programs begin when school is dismissed and close at 5:30 p.m. A variety of activities are planned each afternoon, including homework help, reading, recreational activities and a chance for students to relax and spend time with friends, organizers said.
KidsCare is providing services to Elkhart, Goshen, Concord, Middlebury, Wa-Nee and Fairfield school districts. The program will be held at various elementary schools throughout the county.
For students at Elkhart Community Schools, The Boys and Girls Club of Elkhart will provide care services on days the students aren’t in school. The club will run from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will close for an hour for deep cleaning.
“Boys and Girls Club of Elkhart County is uniquely positioned to provide solutions for this year’s unique school schedule challenges,” said Launa Leftwich, chief operating officer of the agency. “The schools have had a tough job and we stand with them as our No. 1 partner.”
Additionally, the Elkhart Education Foundation is partnering with Lifeline Youth Ministries to provide its EdCamp for Elkhart students Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. after Labor Day. The cost is $10 per day per student. There is no additional cost for before- and after-care, organizers said.
Ashley Molyneaux, the foundation’s executive director, said EdCamp is open to families that choose the hybrid plan by providing a child care and e-learning support option for students on the days they do not attend school.
Each of these organizations will employ the same COVID-19 precaution protocols with the forming of small learning pods of 15 or fewer students, temperature checks, consistent mask usage and hand washing.
Molyneaux touted the success of the foundation’s six-week Summerscape camp last month, which she said had an enrollment of 450 students, none of which tested positive for COVID-19.
“This is because we take risk mitigation very seriously and so do our other partners here today,” she said during the conference.
Using the model created at Summerscape, Molyneaux said EdCamp will provide before- and after-care, transportation, breakfast and lunch, and enrichment classes to all participating students. Mornings will consist of e-learning with support from educational professionals as well as any needed social services. Afternoons will contain enrichment classes and recreational activities, because classes in the music, art, science and physical education will be extremely limited in the school setting, she said.
“When Elkhart Community Schools and other school districts announced their reentry plans, it sent people into a bit of a tailspin,” she said. “The hybrid plans are difficult to navigate for our families and local businesses. I really applaud the district’s hard work at this because these are terrible decisions to have to make especially with almost no national, state or local guidance. However, it’s created a child care crisis and we have to step up as nonprofit organizations and as a community to help solve these crises.”
Mondays through Thursdays, EdCamp will be housed at ETHOS Innovation Center and Lifeline (for students within walking distance of Lifeline). On Fridays, due to the possibility of having more students, students may be assigned to a satellite location, which may include the City of Elkhart Parks/Pavilions, Tolson Center, or a participating church partner. Transportation to Friday sites will be provided.
Chamber President and CEO Levon Johnson said the impact has also been a big concern for local businesses.
“I’ve personally spoken to 50 different companies, and child care is the No. 1 concern,” he said. “The business community is concerned for the children of parents who are having to make the difficult decisions on how to do what’s best for their students and continuing to be actively engaged in our current economic growth.”
He said the chamber is thankful for the partners that have agreed to step up and fill a void to help local families out during these unprecedented times.
“Nobody knows exactly what the right answer is,” he said. “But these organizations have committed to stepping up into the current gap and doing so in a way that complies with the most up-to-date safety guidelines.”
More information is available at greatfutures.club and onecityonemission.org/ edcamp