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Governments, nonprofits to continue distance learning child care

Updated October 19, 2020 - 8:00 am

Many Las Vegas-area governments and nonprofits operating child care programs during distance learning say they plan to continue as long as there’s a need.

For some working parents — particularly, those who can’t work from home — distance learning has spurred a child care nightmare. And even if schools transition to a hybrid model, some parents will still need child care for at least part of their workweek.

“We’re going to continue to support our community as long as it’s needed until kids are going full blown back to school,” said Valerie Derrick, recreation services manager for the city of Henderson.

Clark County, the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas, and a handful of nonprofit organizations are running programs where parents can pay to drop off their children to be supervised during daytime hours while logging in to remote classes and participating in recreational activities.

Thousands of children are attending such programs — some of which still have open slots. Municipalities typically charge about $20 per day or $100 per week per child, while rates vary for nonprofits, with financial assistance available for those who qualify.

To run the programs, local governments are relying mostly on workers normally employed with Safekey before and after-school programs that operate out of elementary schools during a typical school year.

Programs also are taking safety precautions amid the pandemic such as asking parents to drop off and pick up their child without coming inside the building, conducting temperature checks, requiring everyone to wear a face mask, having families fill out a daily COVID-19 screening questionnaire, keeping children in small groups, avoiding sharing supplies among children and doing frequent cleaning.

Program officials say COVID-19 numbers among participating children and employees have remained low this school year, and some programs haven’t seen any cases. The Southern Nevada Health District isn’t providing specific case information by facility, district spokeswoman Stephanie Bethel said.

Working out the kinks

YMCA of Southern Nevada is offering its Y Cares program for children ages 5 to 15 at all four of its branches. The program serves about 350 to 400 children, and there’s space available.

Operating a distance learning program is an adjustment and the Y is working out the kinks along the way, association youth and family director Erica Stegall said. “Virtual learning is very different, but I think that the program is going very well.”

One challenge is keeping a child’s attention via live video for a few hours throughout the day, Stegall said, noting employees are helping them stay engaged while also ensuring “they’re still able to be a kid.” There’s time built into the day for exercise and playing games.

Stegall didn’t disclose exact COVID-19 case numbers to the Review-Journal but said the Y takes safety precautions seriously across all programs and hasn’t seen an outbreak within them.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada’s 13 clubhouses are operating this school year at 75 percent capacity for children ages 6 to 18.

The nonprofit closed its doors in mid-March due to the pandemic, but brought staff back about a month later after securing a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan. The organization developed a virtual programming platform and reopened eight of its clubhouses in early June. All 13 clubhouses have been back in operation since late August.

Now, average daily attendance is 1,472 children maximum across all clubhouses. There are still some spots available to accommodate more children.

“It’s really been kind of a slow slog,” President and CEO Andy Bischel said.

The nonprofit used its existing staff to operate over the summer but had to start hiring this fall when all 13 clubs reopened with a 12-hour day.

It took a long time to advertise positions, train new employees and conduct background checks, Bischel said, noting there have been delays in getting background check results back. “We’re really just catching up on that now.” There’s an overall supervision ratio of one staff member to every 18 children.

There haven’t been any COVID-19 cases tied back to the nonprofit’s clubhouses, Bischel said.

The nonprofit is partnering with Wynn Las Vegas, which is offering to pay for its company employees’ school-aged children to attend Boys & Girls Club locations — with 400 spots in total — during distance learning.

Bischel said the nonprofit is prepared to continue operating with 12-hour days at its clubhouses through December. “The big question is 2021,” he said.

It also depends on whether the school district has a hybrid or full operating schedule for schools next year, he said. “We really don’t know, so we’re just keeping our ears to the ground and seeing where we can serve and how we can be sustainable economically.”

The Crossing, a nondenominational church in Las Vegas, is offering a free child care program for school-aged children during distance learning. More than 100 children are participating between two church campuses and there’s a short waiting list.

“This is a difficult season for many people, but especially difficult for parents,” human resources director Whitney Seifman said in an email to the Review-Journal. “We created this program because we want to support those parents in critical need of distance learning support. This program is serving families that may have otherwise had to quit their jobs to support their children through this distance learning season.”

There haven’t been any confirmed COVID-19 cases among participating children or staff, she said.

‘As long as needed’

The city of Las Vegas’ Vegas Strong Academy is operating at about a dozen community centers and libraries, and is for kindergarten through eighth graders. More than 900 children are registered, and average daily attendance is more than 300. The program isn’t at capacity and registration is still open.

Three families are using Las Vegas Urban League subsidies and the program cost is being covered using federal CARES Act money for about 20 families who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.

Vegas Strong Academy will continue until schools resume in-person classes, said Tammy Malich, director of youth development and social innovation for the city. “We’re prepared to continue as long as needed.”

Malich, who was previously an assistant superintendent for the Clark County School District, said there haven’t been any reported COVID-19 cases among children in the Vegas Strong Academy, but there have been a couple among employees. She said there hasn’t been any virus spread within program sites.

Clark County is offering its School Daze program at 13 parks and recreation centers, serving ages 5 to 12.

There are typically 350 to 400 participants a day, county spokeswoman Stacey Welling said. And in total, 704 families have registered since August. Although a few sites may be at day-to-day capacity, several have openings.

Of the families who registered, 63 percent are having the cost covered by federal CARES Act money. Families who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals can have their child attend for free.

County officials say they’re not aware of any children in the program who have tested positive, but they declined to provide employee information related to specific programs or sites because of privacy concerns.

The city of Henderson’s Battle Born Kids and Battle Born Teens programs are housed at five city recreation centers. Battle Born Kids is for children ages 5 to 12, while Battle Born Teens is for ages 10 to 14.

In total, 196 children are attending — well below the 320-daily cap. And 351 children have passed through the programs this school year.

“We definitely have space available if people are looking for child care options,” Derrick said. Children don’t have to attend full time and the program is open to residents from across the Las Vegas Valley.

One financial assistance option: the city’s Resident Recovery Grant program, announced this month. Henderson residents who qualify for child care assistance can receive up to $2,700 per household.

In addition to Safekey employees, the city hired 12 “distance learning leaders” for its Battle Born Kids and Teens programs. They communicate with parents about what schoolwork children complete during the day, Derrick said, and are familiar with commonly used online learning platforms.

There haven’t been any COVID-19 cases among children or employees in the program. But some employees had a family member or close contact who tested positive, and as a result, they were quarantined, Derrick said.

Southern Nevada Urban Micro Academy, run by the city of North Las Vegas, includes a couple of options for families: a $20-per-day program where public school students get assistance with their schoolwork and a $2 per day educational support program for children who are being home schooled that’s run partly by nonprofit Nevada Action for School Options.

More than 300 children are in the academy and enrollment continues to grow, city spokeswoman Sandy Lopez said. There’s no waiting list for the program.

About 60 percent of children are in the option that supports school district or public charter school distance learning, while 40 percent are in the home-schooling option, Lopez said.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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