Milwaukee-Area Child Care Programs Tackle New Challenge: Adapting To Virtual Learning

Sep 16, 2020

Many children in the Milwaukee area have started the school year with remote learning. But not all parents have the ability to stay home and supervise.

So, some child care programs are adapting to facilitate virtual learning. One of them is the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee, which has been running child care programs throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

>>School Year Starts Virtually For All MPS Students

“As the school year began and more and more schools have decided to go virtual and hybrid, there are parents who do need to work, so they will need support,” said Chris Przedpelski, director of extended learning for YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee.

The Y launched three “Extended Learning Academies” at its Rite-Hite, Northside, and Northwest locations, specifically for students in virtual school.

At the Rite-Hite facility one recent morning, Brittany Campbell, a fitness instructor, was dropping off her 7-year-old twin daughters at the learning academy.

“I was really stressed out,” Campbell said about virtual school. “It’s nice to have that comfort of, I can make a living and they can be in a safe place.”

At this location, there are five classrooms or “pods” with about 10 students each. The students come from school districts including Milwaukee, Brown Deer, Whitefish Bay, and Mequon, and private and charter schools, including Saint Marcus, HOPE Christian, and Milwaukee College Prep. 

“Depending on what school, what school district they’re in, they’re all in different schedules right now,” Przedpelski explained. “So it is complex when you have 60 kids here at Rite-Hite and every pod, all 10 kids might be on a different schedule.”

To see how that plays out, I hung out in what used to be the Rite-Hite's cycling studio. It is now being used as a classroom. Eleven 6- and 7-year-olds are sitting at spaced-apart tables with their Chromebook laptops, waiting for the school day to begin.

Six- and 7-year-old students in one of the Rite-Hite YMCA's learning "pods." Sam Fairchild, a staff member, helps a student get situated.
Credit Emily Files / WUWM

“It weird,” said a Brown Deer student named Summer, when asked about virtual learning. “It’s kind of like, glitchy.”

Once 8:30 hits, you can see just how complicated it is to get 11 students, all with different schedules and learning platforms, situated for online learning.

“Ava are you in? Does the Zoom link work?” Sam Fairchild, one of the YMCA staffers, asks a student.

A student named Mila, who goes to Augustine Prep in Milwaukee, listens to her teacher on the screen.

“Can you hear me?” the teacher asks. “Is it glitchy?”

YMCA employees Fairchild and Kelly Graham move around the room trying to get students connected. Fairchild gives her cellphone to one child whose iPad isn’t working. She says this whole virtual learning thing is a work in progress.

“But every day is just new strides, new improvements,” Fairchild says.

Abbony Hudson helps a student with virtual learning at Starms child care camp, a Milwaukee Recreation program.
Credit Emily Files / WUWM

There’s a similar attitude at the Starms Early Childhood school in Milwaukee’s midtown neighborhood. It is one of about 50 child care sites Milwaukee Recreation, a division of MPS, is opening as the school year begins with remote instruction.

The sites include child care camps, which are operated by Milwaukee Recreation staff, and community learning centers, which are located in MPS schools but run by partner organizations like the Boys and Girls Club. During a normal school year, these programs provide before- and after-school care. But during virtual learning, they are serving children during school hours.

“There were some bumps in the road in the beginning, boy, with the technology,” said Dawn Mendoza, the director of Starms' child care camp. “But that was expected. My staff are wonderful, they problem-solved.”

"We're just here to assist and help out any way we can. Because, you know, parents gotta work. It takes a village to raise a child. So that's what we are." - Dawn Mendoza

When I visit Starms, there are two classrooms of eight or nine students sitting several feet apart from each other, listening to teachers on their screens. At both Starms and Rite-Hite, mask-wearing among the students isn’t consistent, even though staff is continually reminding them.

“School is amazing!” First grader Arianah says after finishing up a lesson with her teacher. “Yesterday I had a fit because my computer kept on saying you cannot be in this meeting.”

But she says, “Today it’s going really good.”

Arianah, an MPS student attending Starms child care camp, uses Google Classroom to connect with her teacher and complete assignments.
Credit Emily Files / WUWM

Mendoza, the camp director, says each day gets a little easier.

“It’s a learning experience for all of us,” Mendoza says. “And we’re just here to assist and help out any way we can. Because, you know, parents gotta work. It takes a village to raise a child. So that’s what we are.”

She says, if this “village” has to adapt to 40 children in online school, that’s what it will do.

Both the YMCA of Metro Milwaukee and Milwaukee Recreation have space available in their day camps for families seeking child care during virtual learning. 

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