When schools closed in mid-March, kids were sent home for what we thought would be weeks — which turned into months as the pandemic upended lives. Families managed, but child care and academic help remain huge needs in this back-to-school season like no other.
Schools won’t open — but the school year will. And parents have options.
Rather than a short-lived emergency, “it’s a long-term community health issue,” said Jennifer Willows, vice president and chief development officer for the YMCA of Snohomish County.
The Y has opened registration for new Virtual Learning Centers, which will operate in local schools and Y branches in partnership with Snohomish County and school districts.
With a similar program, Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County also offer all-day child care. At the clubs, kids will get in-person help in Virtual Learning Labs. The Boys & Girls Clubs announced Thursday that it will offer scholarships to all families who enroll, ranging from 50% to 100%, thanks to the county’s CARES Act funding.
Both programs are supported by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. About $3 million of Snohomish County’s CARES money is to go toward child care for families of essential workers, said Scott North, a spokesman for the county Department of Emergency Management.
Other CARES Act funding from the county will pay for paraeducators hired for academic support.
“We’re doing the best we can,” said Marci Volmer, Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County’s chief operating officer. “We’ve been working with our counterparts at the Y. The two programs are looking more similar.”
The Y’s all-day program for elementary-level kids will be at nine schools — Lowell, Whittier, Cedar Wood and Penny Creek in Everett; Allen Creek in Marysville; Sunnycrest in Lake Stevens; Totem Falls in Snohomish; Fryelands in Monroe; Serene Lake in Mukilteo — and at the Stanwood-Camano YMCA.
For middle school students, the Y plans to use its six branches. Details of the middle school program are still being worked out, Willows said. “In middle school, there might be kids who are fine being home two to three days a week,” she said. Still, she sees a need among teens for social interaction and adult mentors.
The Y centers will follow each school district’s planned daily schedule. Students are to bring their district-provided technology tools and classwork each day.
For the programs at more than a dozen local Boys & Girls Clubs, Volmer said, some districts are providing paraeducators while “we are also hiring virtual learning support staff.” The organization’s full-day care is for kindergartners through sixth-graders, with planned activities and study time for online learning.
Volmer said a mental health component, part of both programs, is key as changes brought by the pandemic affect kids and parents. “Their parents are stressed and kids are not understanding. Maybe a parent is now working from home, or has lost a job,” Volmer said. “We have kids of all ages, with different challenges.”
Procedures to prevent spread of the virus will be in place at both programs. That means masks, curbside drop-off and pick-up, limited group sizes and lots of hand-washing and site sanitizing.
Child-care costs are a big consideration. The price for full-day care at YMCA Virtual Learning Centers is $250 per week, but families may choose as few as one day a week. Both Volmer and Willows said no family will be turned away due to inability to pay — financial help is available.
A detailed Child Care Industry Assessment Report, released this week by the state Department of Commerce, contends that before the pandemic, more than a half-million children in Washington did not have access to licensed child care. The study was commissioned by the state Child Care Collaborative Task Force. Among findings:
• 61% of young children live in households where all parents work, while Washington has sufficient licensed child care capacity for only 41% of young children and 5% of school-age children.
• 18% of parents surveyed had turned down a job offer or promotion due to child care issues.
• 47% of unemployed parents found child care issues are a barrier to seeking work, 51% among women, 41% among men.
After schools closed last spring, 1,400 children per week were enrolled in emergency child care offered by the local YMCA. Volmer said the Boys & Girls Clubs was caring for fewer kids than ever last spring, just 400 to 600 daily, compared with the usual 3,500 to 4,000. “It’s been creeping up all summer,” she said.
“It’s not perfect yet,” Volmer said. Wi-Fi hotspots are a need, as dozens of kids will be online at once. Buildings themselves have issues. The Edmonds club’s gym, she said, will be used so kids have enough space — and it has just two electrical outlets.
Parents, Volmer said, have asked if their kids will be all finished with schoolwork when it’s time to go home. That’s not a guarantee. Again, she said, “we do the best we can.”
Willows sees the Y program as filling a void, as teachers do their jobs in new ways and families turn homes into classrooms.
“We’re grateful for the leadership of Snohomish County,” Willows said. “There’s so much uncertainty on every level. Nobody is unaffected.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs offer child care, school help
YMCA of Snohomish County’s new Virtual Learning Centers will provide child care and educational help for children in elementary school and middle school as schools remain closed. At local schools and Y branches, the centers will serve families in the Everett, Lake Stevens, Marysville, Monroe, Mukilteo, Snohomish and Stanwood-Camano school districts. Learn more or register at: ymca-snoco.org
Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County are open, and this school year they will provide academic support in Virtual Learning Labs. The program for kindergarten through sixth-grade children includes technical help, socially distanced study spaces, physical education, arts and STEM activities. For information, contact your area club or go to: bgcsc.org
Both programs will have paraeducators and mental health support staff.