By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on August 22, 2020
With area school districts beginning the academic year with remote learning for at least the first nine weeks, many working parents have found themselves facing significant childcare challenges. And while a number of local organizations quickly mobilized to fill that need, the Outer Banks Family YMCA has perhaps created one of the most robust programs this fall.
The Nags Head facility – whose doors have been closed since March due to North Carolina’s COVID-19 restrictions on gyms – officially opened its full-day E-Learning Academy on Aug. 17 with 53 students enrolled in the program the first week of opening. So far, 66 children are registered for the second week of the academy, a number that organizers expect will continue to grow.
Open to students from any district, the academy is currently serving students from Dare, Currituck and Pasquotank counties who are learning remotely through their county’s school curriculum. Students bring their own Chromebooks, which are provided by their school districts.
Faced with continuing state restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus, the Outer Banks Family YMCA saw an opportunity to repurpose their facilities to provide a space for children while school doors remain closed.
“We recognized that there is a pretty significant need for childcare,” Outer Banks Family YMCA Senior Program Director Samantha Wills told the Voice. “The majority of people work during the day, and I don’t think anyone was planning on also having to homeschool their children.”
Utilizing racquetball courts and exercise studios for socially distanced instructional space, the E-Learning Academy serves students in grades pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, providing assistance in remote learning curriculums.
According to Willis, the academy provides an academic counselor for every 15 students, many of whom are on an educational track to teach children or have experience in the field. The counselors, she added, assist students with their assigned work, keep them on task and in conjunction with parents, ensure all assignments are finished and turned in on time.
But academics isn’t the only focal point of the academy, which begins drop-off at 7 a.m. and provides childcare up until 6 p.m. Also integrated into the program are physical activities like swimming and yoga, as well as enrichment opportunities through clubs that highlight everything from gardening to painting, music, books and creative writing. The academy also provides participants with lunch, which is provided by the school system through a grant.
“It’s a really exciting time…during a really scary time,” Wills noted. “I feel like this particular time in life has required thinking out of the box every time you turn around.”
Wills said the socialization aspect of the academy, much like the Y’s summer camp program, is extremely significant. “These kids need a normal…No, they are not as interactive as they used to be and yes, they’re behind a mask. But they’re talking to kids their age, they get to interact with kids their age, and that is such a huge part of child’s development.”
This summer, the Outer Banks Community Foundation awarded the YMCA with a $24,000 grant to go toward scholarships for participants whose families may not be able to afford the E-Learning Academy. Wills said about 50 percent of the participants in the academy are on scholarships. The cost is $125 per week or $25 per day for members and $165 a week or $33 per day for nonmembers.
For some kids, Wills pointed out, school is their safe place as well as where they’re going to eat. “That’s what we want to provide,” she asserts.
The academy, she added, has rigorous safety precautions in regard to COVID-19.
“Children are required to wear masks whenever they are in the building and maintain that six-foot distance,” she explained. Academy participants bring their own items and are not permitted to share supplies. They have a designated basket to keep their personal items, make periodic trips to the restroom to wash hands and frequently use hand sanitizer.
(For more information on the Outer Banks Family YMCA E-Learning Academy, or to inquire about a position as an academic counselor, contact Wills at firstname.lastname@example.org.)