Y childcare adapts to changing school schedule to serve kids

Children playing outside at YMCA childcare

Asheville, N.C., Oct. 20, 2020 – Getting an education during the pandemic may be making students and their parents dizzy, but the YMCA of Western North Carolina is here to help.

Not that it’s easy to manage the state’s largest licensed school-age childcare program across four school districts with differing schedules during a pandemic, mind you. But with the help of strong community partnerships, the Y is getting creative to ensure that safe, reliable and affordable childcare remains available.

Creativity is nothing new to the Y’s childcare team, which switched from afterschool programs to emergency childcare for essential workers in mid-March.

“We pivoted to a full-day program almost overnight to serve these families in a very challenging environment,” said Melissa Wiedeman, the Y’s vice president of K-12 childcare. “At the same time we came up with daily resources to help parents keep their kids engaged while schooling at home.”

In a typical school year, the Y operates afterschool and school’s out programs in the Asheville City Schools, Buncombe County Schools, and McDowell County Schools, and at the UNC Asheville Kellogg Center in partnership with Henderson County Public Schools. There’s nothing typical about this school year, however.

Building resilient kids

“All the school systems had different opening plans, and they continue to change,” Wiedeman said. “It’s been very confusing for kids and families, who are also suffering from isolation, stress, uncertainty, and insecurity about jobs, food, health and more.”

The Y addresses these needs through safe programs based on its core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility, Wiedeman said. “When children have this kind of social-emotional support, they are more likely to succeed in times of crisis.”

Derek Lindsey agrees. His 9-year-old daughter, India, is in enrolled in the Y’s program. He says it’s made all the difference.

“During this pandemic, times have been tough for many families. But with the help of the YMCA and their great staff, my family and so many other families have been able to get through these uncertain times,” Lindsey said. “My wife and I are both hospital employees, and without the YMCA childcare program I’m not sure how we would’ve made it during this pandemic.”

Partnerships make it possible

At the beginning of the school year, the Y opened several full-day virtual learning hubs to serve children in Buncombe, Henderson and McDowell. When Buncombe County Schools went into Plan B, however, the Y was no longer able to run the full-day program in school facilities.

Wiedeman and her team began reaching out to community leaders and other nonprofits to find locations that could accommodate up to 100 students per day, preferably at a site that was convenient for parents and that offered opportunities for outdoor learning.

In addition to Gateway Church in Asheville, the Y has partnered with Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain and Lutheridge in Arden. Both have conference center space in a natural setting that’s ideally suited to the Y’s needs.

“Our campus is the perfect platform for virtual class learning and for hands-on learning,” said Melissa Bailey Logan, president and CEO of YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly, which is not affiliated with the YMCA of WNC. “These young students will have the opportunity to identify plant life on a hike, explore a creek ecosystem, create heritage crafts and most importantly, enjoy healthy outdoor activities.”

Lutheridge Program Director Chandler Carriker agrees. “At Lutheridge we believe that bringing young people together in community in the outdoors makes an impact in their lives and in the world,” Carriker said. “We see this during the summer in our own camps, and we are seeing that now in our partnership with the YMCA. We are grateful for the opportunity to be a community partner with the YMCA and support families, children, and schools during this season of uncertainty."

The outdoor programs are enormously beneficial to the kids, Wiedeman said. “We’re able to bring children together into nature in a safe, socially distanced way to study a STEM curriculum, do enrichment activities that supplement their schoolwork, and give a sense of peace and tranquility that’s missing from much of their lives right now,” she said.

Always there for families

Partnerships like these have helped the Y adapt to school changes, and a new state grant is reimbursing it for some COVID-related expenses. As a result, spaces are now open for more children.

“Parents can register for ‘afterschool,’ but let us know if you need the full-day program and transportation,” Wiedeman said.

Thanks to state and federal funding and generous donations, financial assistance is available. Up to 80 percent of Y childcare families receive financial assistance or a full subsidy voucher.

“Kids thrive on consistency and stability, and so do their parents and caregivers. Families can depend on us to always be there to respond to the changing needs of the community,” said Wiedeman. “They know we’re there if everything changes tomorrow, they will still have a safe place for their child.”

Sign up for YMCA childcare programs at https://ymcawnc.org/childcare.

Locations: YMCA Youth Services