Families rely on local childcare programs during remote-only learning 

BAR HARBOR Without the childcare programs at the YMCA and Harbor House Community Service Center, families who can’t work remotely would be forced to choose between paying for housing and food or educating their kids, according to one parent whose child attends the Y for remote learning.  

“As a single parent working full time, the YMCA has been vital to my ability to stay employed and provide life’s necessities for my daughter while also knowing she is in a safe, enriching environment where she is able to complete her remote learning work and keep up with her classmates,” said Kala Ward in an email to the Islander. Her daughter went to the YMCA during remote learning last spring, in September for the first three weeks of this school year and for the next two weeks.  

Not only did the Remote Learning program and altered summer program provide a safe place for my daughter to learn and play while I worked during the pandemic, she flourished,” Ward added, “trying new things, making friends, completing lessons stress free, and she was so used to the safety precautions at the Y that when school resumed, the masks and extra rules didn’t bother her one bit.” 

At the beginning of this week, as the schools prepared to go back to remote learning that began on Wednesday, the door to the Y’s childcare program was open and it was doing its own preparation for when students needed to go online. 

“I’m going to have at least 20,” said Jared Erskine, the YMCA’s youth development director, on Monday. “Today I have 15 kids.” 

On Saturday, Erskine received a phone call from Conners Emerson School Principal Barb Neilly letting him know the district was moving to remote learning for the first two weeks after holiday break in response to the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in the area. They were planning to meet again before Wednesday to make sure Erskine had the resources needed to support the students’ online learning. Four ed techs worked with students at the YMCA during the three weeks in September, which Erskine said was a huge help.  

“It’s been said she’s going to give me those resources again,” Erskine said about Neilly. “We’re childcare workers. I have that background, but a lot of my staff don’t.”
Even though it seemed to be short notice, Erskine said they have been preparing at the YMCA since the start of the year.  

“We’re prepared to use our gym space if we need to, following guidelines, of course,” he said.  

On the other side of the island, those at Harbor House were also preparing at the beginning of the week.  

“I feel like we have a good system in place because we’ve done it already,” said Diana Novella, the events and community relations coordinator for Harbor House. “We’re going to have about 20 kids that are going to be here that were already in our programming.” 

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade from both Pemetic Elementary School and Tremont Consolidated School participate in remote learning from Harbor House. In September, there were also ed techs on location to help students navigate learning online and two will be helping there for the next two weeks.  

“We’ve got three different spaces that we’re going to be in,” said Novella.  

Before holiday break began in December, Harbor House had its regular after-school programs going for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Those programs will continue while remote learning is going on after the school day is finished.  

While Ward is grateful for the YMCA, she feels the best place for her daughter is at school.  

“The YMCA has been a bright spot in the community and really let its core values shine during a difficult time in the world and we are really grateful to the staff,” she wrote. “It’s a great place for kids and they’ve done a great job of staying the place for kids to be even during a pandemic. 

“While the Y did a great job making the best of the situation and keeping kids from falling behind, kids learn best in school and teachers are used to teaching in schools. The teachers and administrators have worked so hard to keep kids learning in the school building and proven their practices work. 

“Whether folks believe COVID is a danger to them or not, the impact of their choices is bigger than their family.  Our community is like a web and people’s choices can easily have a large and serious impact on the economic stability and health of people they haven’t even come in contact with. Kids would be safely in their school building and families wouldn’t be missing work if more folks acted with concern for the impact on the community during the holiday break,” she added. “Hopefully all MDIRSS families will take the precautions seriously during this remote learning period so kids can get back in the buildings to their normal routine.” 

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

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

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