The Guilford County Board of Education’s decision on July 28 to start the school year with remote learning may help to keep students and staff at the county’s elementary and middle schools healthy and safe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. But that decision has also shown light on a social service quandary, according to professionals:
Kids need help to learn online. Parents need help with their kids.
“GCS has 71,000 students who should be in school that are now being home schooled, and parents and caregivers have had to accommodate that,” says Amy Hudson, executive director of the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club of High Point. “Not all of them are equally prepared to do that. Some parents have difficulty teaching their kids. Some have been laid off, and it’s very hard to look for work while trying to home school. Other parents are essential and never stopped working, so they’re not as available. Others may be very young, and have trouble educating their children because they’re not educated themselves. Some may be experiencing homelessness. Imagine being a homeless parent and having to figure out how to get the right equipment and set-up for your child to go online, and then follow through with daily lessons.”
Some of those stressful situations will get a little easier for some High Point families today, thanks to the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club’s recent designation as a remote enrichment center for children in grades 1-8 who are participating in online learning. The center will open today with 40 students, and add 10 students at a time for a maximum of 80.
Funding for this and 12 other extended learning centers comes in part from the Guilford County commissioners, who voted at their August work session to allocate $500,000 of emergency funds from the national economic stimulus bill known as the CARES Act to create safe places for K-5 students who would ordinarily be enrolled in an after-school program. The funds allow students to have full-day care for up to eight weeks, if their families qualify.
Funding for help with students in grades 6-8 comes from other nonprofit agencies that serve children, including the High Point Community Foundation, the city of High Point, United Way of Greater High Point, Guilford County CARES, and The Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary.
“There is a tremendous need for this help, and I’ve never seen all the agencies come together so fast to provide it,” Hudson says. “The immediate need for all-day child care and assistance with remote learning is overwhelming to working families. We want to be there to ease these burdens while helping our youth stay focused on their education.”
The Salvation Army center will even take some high school students, if they meet certain criteria, to mitigate the social and safety risks that may accompany older students at home alone for a nine-week semester.
“Parents call me really concerned about outside influences on high school-age kids being left at home alone all day,” Hudson says. “In certain cases, we’ll take the older kids.”
In addition to help with online school work, students will be able to participate in the center’s programming and have breakfast, lunch and a snack. Students will be required to wear a mask, have morning temperature checks upon arrival, and follow social distancing and other safety guidelines and procedures.
“We try to make it fun. For example, one of our community partners donated cloth masks for each student to receive, so we bought some cloth markers to let each student design their own mask so they have a little more buy-in,” Hudson says. “We also have been experimenting with creative ways to get them to keep the masks on.”
The High Point center’s staff has had the chance to practice some modified programming throughout the summer. While some centers are opening at nonprofit agencies for the first time with this funding, the High Point club has been open almost steadily, including summer camps.
“We followed CDC guidelines for swimming and our kids got to swim this summer, and take swim lessons,” Hudson says. “We planted a garden, sent home boxes of fresh food to each child so that they could participate in our healthy meals program, and organized programs like our Lego labs so that the kids worked individually instead all together.
“It has been a learning process, but by now, we are getting pretty good at it.”
Although the circumstances are still tough for working families, Hudson praises Guilford nonprofits and the county commissioners for coming together to provide the funding, in a time of social distancing, to help children in need.
“Some parents literally cry on the phone when they find out that we’re open, and that I can get them a scholarship,” Hudson says. “I thank the county commissioners for seeing the importance of this, and the other nonprofits for coming together to help find solutions. This will solve some big problems for our kids.”
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