When stay-at-home orders went into effect in March 2020, one of the first concerns the YMCA of Greater Kansas City started hearing about was child care. What would families do if parents had to go to work but kids were out of school?
The Y, the largest provider of school-age child care in the metro, quickly developed new, vital programs to support youth with their learning while schools have been closed. Programs have given a lifeline to working parents, particularly essential workers including health care workers, first responders, grocery store workers, and others. The Y received funding to keep the programs affordable, including scholarship support provided by Health Forward Foundation that helped ensure that cost was not a barrier for health care and behavioral health workers from safety net providers.
“Just as the Y has responded to community needs over the past 160 years, the Y has adapted its programs and services during the pandemic to meet the community needs, and child care has been a significant part of our response,” said John Mikos, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Kansas City.
In March 2020, the Y developed and implemented a new Essential Child Care program that allowed essential workers to maintain employment and keep the community running with peace of mind that their children were safe and had support with remote learning. This new program served 204 children.
As the months went on, the Y continued to innovate with new challenges the pandemic presented. The Y developed health and safety practices that became the standard for other Y programs and other service providers in the community.
With the school year approaching, a new challenge loomed for families: how to support kids with remote learning as districts announced full-time virtual or hybrid schedules.
The Y was ready. Using experience from providing safe Essential Child Care and Summer Day Camp programs, the Y implemented the new Y Learning Academy program, which provides full-day, in-person support for children ages 5-12 with virtual learning. Learning coaches support each student with assignments from their school, and deliver the Y’s holistic youth development curriculum.
Thanks to this innovation, more than 2,400 kids have been learning in a safe environment, while their parents maintained employment to support their families.
The programs have been critical in serving children of essential employees including health care workers and teachers, single-parent families, and families with insufficient internet access.
Historically the Y had provided school-age child care programs in schools. District buildings were unavailable, so the Y repurposed space at Y membership centers for the program. In addition, partners provided space to run the Y Learning Academy, including churches, a community center and Johnson County Community College.
As more elementary schools returned to in-person learning, the Y added remote learning and academic support to before and after school programs to address the disruption in learning children have experienced.
In 2020, the Y served 2,401 children in full-day virtual learning and before and after school programs for hybrid and full-time school schedules.
As the Y looks ahead toward summer, day camps will be ready to serve youth across the metro, to support working families and help kids who have had their learning disrupted by the pandemic by giving them an opportunity to continue to learn throughout the summer.