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Youth organizations could fill huge school-year gaps

Joyful squeals and shouts drift out across Parking Lot J at Golden West College in Huntington Beach.

A small group of children climb and jumpon a jungle gym outside the building that houses the Boys & Girls Clubs of Huntington Valley on the otherwise empty college campus. And while those kids play outdoors, others are inside, doing different activities in various rooms.

These groups of kids — “cohorts” of no more than 12 children — all play and learn at health-appropriate distances under the supervision of a staff member assigned to them all day, every day.

It’s one of several youth programs around Southern California, where children are out of the house and socializing, but doing it all while following COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

“Am I going to say that they’re never within six feet? Of course not,” said Tanya Hoxsie, chief executive for the Huntington Valley’s seven clubs, referencing the kids in her care.

“But look at them; they’re pretty good.”

Similar scenes are playing out at youth programs around Southern California:

–In Los Angeles, children at the Ketchum-Downtown YMCA recently drew long flowing rainbows, hearts and stars with colorful chalk on the concrete of a city plaza.

–At Camp Fire Angeles summer program,  on five acres of former water department land in Long Beach, the “Backyard Bunch” wore masks wherever they went, and stayed at carefully measured distances.

–In the Coachella Valley, even after other Boys & Girls clubs shut down in March, teens at the Indio site recently baked pizzas that they sold at two for $5 to learn entrepreneurial skills.

And, with luck, they might play out in the fall, too.

At many organizations now offering summer programs for kids, the plan is to stay open and fill a void that’s expected to be left by shuttered schools.



Some Southern California schools start this month; others after Labor Day. But with coronavirus still spreading in the region, most will offer online instruction while campuses remain closed under an order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom in July.

Youth organizations are ready to help, where they can.

Promised options run the gamut, from full-time day care and distance learning supervision for preschoolers and grade school students, to college prep and other supervision for teens. Many full-time programs will start their weekdays at 6 AM or 7 AM and run about 12 hours until parents get off work.

A message on the website for West End YMCA in San Bernardino County, which serves Chino Valley, Ontario-Montclair, and Upland, captures the spirit of what’s being offered:

“We are working diligently to adapt our program to the changing needs of families during this current COVID situation.”

Summer is a dry run

At a lot of summer camps, attendance is down because of coronavirus. But for program administrators, it’s been an opportunity to create a model of how to safely gather children together to play and learn.

The two oldest and biggest youth organizations in the area, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the YMCA, plan to expand their day care services in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties when school districts kick back into gear. Staff members will assist with online learning, helping to keep kids focused on their lessons while stopping short of actual instruction.

Other organizations are considering part-time learning centers, offering homework help in time slots designated by age group or grade level.

“We have facilities. And we have trained staff to support the communities,” said Patrick Mahoney, director of organizational development for the Pacific Region of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, which includes California.

“The closer we work with city and county governments and with school boards, the more help we can be to make sure that all kids get through this and stay connected to learning and education.”

Nobody is saying supervised distance learning is the same as sitting in a classroom with a teacher. But the youth organizations might be crucial for students who live in circumstances ill-suited to virtual schooling — no WiFi, no laptops, no quiet space and no adults who can oversee their lessons.

And for working parents, the day care could be a godsend.

Corey and Heather Capps of Huntington Beach both work full time. They’ve had their 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old twins at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Huntington Valley’s preschool center next to the Golden West club building since all the children were infants.

Their oldest daughter was supposed to start kindergarten this year at Sea Cliff Elementary School. As soon as the Capps heard that the governor was not going to let schools reopen until coronavirus is under control, they made sure she could stay at the Boys & Girls club.

“It probably saves my wife or myself having to quit our job to stay with her,” Corey Capps said.

Crayon sticker safety

The revised summer camp programs evolved out of emergency efforts in March and April that limited day care to the children of first responders, hospital employees, and other essential workers. As the economy loosened up and more parents resumed working out of their homes, youth organizations adapted and expanded their programs to accommodate more kids.

The organizations follow health guidelines set by federal, state and county health officials. Among other things, parents must drop off their children outside the buildings; children and staff undergo daily temperature checks before entering.

They also follow summer camp educational resources compiled by the American Camp Association and YMCA of the USA. Children are divided into small cohorts and stay with each other; they don’t mingle with children from other groups. Each group is supervised by a staff member assigned solely to them or is in charge of a particular room or space where an activity takes place, again, to limit exposure.

At the two-story Boys & Girls club on the Golden West College campus,  stickers that look like crayons stuck to hallway baseboards remind children where to stand — 6 feet apart — as they wait to go to their next activity.

Inside, the kids wear masks and routinely wash their hands. Rooms and play equipment are wiped down with spray bottles of Simple Green, donated by the company.

Bus drivers, who in non-pandemic years would transport children to and from before- and after-school programs, have been pressed into sanitation duties.

Capps appreciates the extra precautions.

“I know that they’re safe. For my wife and I, that’s the bottom line … I don’t think the schools have the ability to do better than this.”

Similar measures allowed other youth organizations to operate this summer without sparking any new coronavirus outbreaks.

But the health rules are tight.

In June, a week after summer camp started, a single employee at the Indio Boys & Girls Club tested positive. That meant summer activities at all four Coachella Valley club sites were scrapped. The clubs will reopen as distant learning centers for the school year.

When they do open, those clubs could feel a lot like schools.

Plans call for staff members to assist with virtual schooling and class assignments in the first part of the day, then homework help and tutoring in the afternoon. Meals and snacks will be provided. Free-time activities will take place indoors and outdoors.

The Boys & Girls of Coachella Valley has gone so far as to hire a teacher to supervise the overall learning program.

“We want to make sure if our kids need some extra help in some areas, we have someone qualified to help with that,” said Quinton Egson, chief executive officer of the Coachella Valley clubs.

“Most of our kids are under served. They’re the ones that get affected more by things of this nature.”

Some sites will use their own facilities; some will operate from locations they’ve traditionally occupied on school campuses. Others are talking with schools to use empty classrooms, or have rented alternative spaces in their communities.

Costs will vary. For low-income families, the organizations offer free or subsidized care. Others will pay up to $650 a month per child, depending on the number of days or hours a child is in a program.

Also, not every family will be able to take part. Attendance will be capped at  one half to two-thirds of typical numbers because of COVID-19 protocols, space, staffing and other operational expenses.

Lots of demand …

The YMCA of Orange County, the county’s largest licensed child care provider, plans to start the school year with distance learning programs and full-time child care at more than 40 sites. Combined, that’s a capacity for slightly more than 5,000 children in Kindergarten to eighth grades, said Chief Executive Jeff McBride.

The organization has 80 available locations, however, and he said it could negotiate with school districts to add more space if needed. Even though the summer program operated at 26 sites, and served about 1,000 kids (one-third of a typical summer), McBride is confident YMCA of Orange County can fill the child care gap when education resumes.

“We’ll hire people. And we’ll just keep going,” McBride said. “It’s very scalable.”

But the other side of that coin is the demand.

McBride said his organization surveyed parents who use their day care services and worked with school districts who surveyed their parents. The largest school district to report back so far, which McBride declined to name, said more than 6,000 families cited a need for child care during the day while parents go to work.

“That’s what they need in the fall,” McBride said. “That’s a humbling number.”

The YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles normally operates 26 of its own sites, from the Antelope Valley to Wilmington. Summer camp was held at seven of those locations.

As of last week, the organization had fielded more than 3,000 inquiries about plans for the fall, which were still being developed,  said Christopher J. Jefferson, assistant vice president of child care for YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles.

Within five minutes of Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner announcing in July an online-only start for schools this fall, Jefferson said his group’s email was “flooded with with parents asking hat the Y’s plans are.”

Jefferson expected to get word out to parents by this week; he declined to reveal any details before then. But, he hinted, “there are some pretty big opportunities coming down the pike with school districts that parents are going to be pretty happy with.”

… Not lots of money

For all they’ve done to keep children in their care safe under COVID-19 protocol, along with a desire to do more to help out families in their communities, youth organizations — all nonprofits — are looking at a potentially tough financial future.

Sanitation costs have doubled, and now there are PPE expenses. Employees are working longer hours to oversee the small-group cohorts, or more have been hired. Additional money was spent to upgrade technology or buy laptops. And, because of coronavirus, fundraisers have been canceled.

It’s uncertain when, or if, financial help will come from supplemental dollars that schools received in federal coronavirus funding.

A small business loan from the Paycheck Protection Program breathed life into the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Huntington Valley.

“That saved us,” Hoxsie said. “Without it, we wouldn’t be here.”

The Boys & Girls Club of the Los Angeles Harbor is ready to start school-year programs at its seven sites on Aug. 18. But only four will operate for a full day; the other three will be half day. The organization anticipates a $1.4 million deficit because of additional coronavirus-related expenses, said Mike Lansing, the Los Angeles Harbor chief executive.

The number of kids they’ll be able to accommodate is capped around 1,000.

“We know we’re going to take on debt,” Lansing said.

But the club is not charging for its programs.

“We won’t price anybody out of an opportunity when they’re trying to make rent and put food on the table.”

Source: Orange County Register

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