Harbor House Community Service Center in Southwest Harbor reopened for childcare in May and throughout the summer has had an average of 25 children in the second to sixth grade age group. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Childcare centers collaborating with schools 

BAR HARBORWhen schools and businesses closed in March in response to COVID-19, the Mount Desert Island YMCA furloughed 80 percent of its staff and closed its doors to the public except for children of hospital staff and other essential workers.  

In a couple of weeks, when school begins remotely throughout the district, the YMCA is again planning to provide care for the children of teachers who have to be in the school buildings, primarily, and of working parents.  

“There are other kids that come here that are sort of our Y-kids that I know will need childcare,” said Jared Erskine, director of youth development and childcare at the YMCA. He is working with school officials at Conners Emerson to determine what will be needed and constructing a plan to support children in learning.  

“We had a good test run,” said Erskine about the spring when children were schooling from home or, in some cases, the Y. “We were implementing some of that remote learning.” 

Harbor House Community Service Center in Southwest Harbor reopened its childcare facility in May after briefly closing in late March due to the pandemic.

“We knew we had to be operational for working families,” said Executive Director Ingrid Kachmar, about providing services for those in Tremont and Southwest Harbor. “If they couldn’t go back to work, how were they going to feed their families? Nothing has changed. If anything, there are more people back at work.” 

While some summer camps chose to shutter their doors for the season in response to COVID-19, both the YMCA and Harbor House have been open for children.  

“We’re following the CDC guidelines for summer day camps,” said Kachmar, who added one full-time staff member at both the summer camps, Camp Max and Scamper Camp. “My office manager became a camp counselor this summer.” 

Throughout the summer, Harbor House had an average of 25 children in the second to sixth grade age group.  

“We could have served more, but we don’t have the capacity,” said Kachmar. “We were turning kids away.” 

In Bar Harbor, Erskine enrolled nearly 50 children in programs serving 5- to 12-year-olds, a little less than a normal year.  

“Summer camp, I find, has been very successful,” he said. “We’ve been having our kids wear masks.” 

Using what information is available about the start of the school year, Kachmar is working with school officials to develop a plan for students. Numbers are already showing a strong need. 

“We’ve got 25-ish that will be here in second to fifth grade,” she said. “And, that’s with not even putting it out there that this is an option for people.” 

School officials are also working with officials at Camp Beech Cliff and Neighborhood House in Northeast Harbor.  

“We will be doing something similar to what we did this summer, a la carte programs,” said Matt Hart, community relations director at Neighborhood House. “Our opinion is, if the kids aren’t safe in school in groups, they certainly wouldn’t be here.”
As of the beginning of this week, Hart was waiting to hear more details from the school administrators at Mount Desert Elementary School.  

“We’re just going to remain as creative and flexible as we can,” he said, explaining their offerings would be supplemental to schoolwork with a focus on arts, similar to their summer programs. “We did have to require pre-registration. We will for any programming in the fall just so we can keep track of our numbers and for contact tracing.” 

Last week, Camp Beech Cliff sent out a survey to families who had previously enrolled their children to see if there was interest or a need to offer program support during the period of remote learning. 

“We sent out a survey just to query our own camper families to gauge the interest,” said Debra Deal, executive director of the camp. “And there was a lot of interest.” 

Over the next week, Deal is scheduled to meet with school officials and the camp’s board of directors to see what the camp can offer for area families. 

In Southwest Harbor, Kachmar and the Harbor House staff have a relatively clear sense of what they will need to do.  

“As a school board member, I have firsthand experience,” she said. “I know what kind of protocol needs to be in place. We’ve been doing it.” 

Not all families are faced with the decision of what to do with their children during the remote learning phase of returning to school. Some are able to have at least one parent, or another family member, support at home. 

“The disparity between the haves and have nots is expanding exponentially,” said Kachmar. “It’s not fair to those kids who don’t have the familial resources.” 

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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