A lifeline has been tossed to Bowling Green parents, and many have enthusiastically grabbed it.
An all-day program is being offered to families with children kindergarten to sixth grade to provide childcare and schoolwork assistance while Bowling Green City Schools offers online lessons.
The Wood County Educational Service Center’s Community Learning Center has partnered with the school district to create IMPACT, a full-day childcare program that accommodates families that need that service throughout the day.
Normally, the CLC offers before- and after-school programming at the district’s elementaries. However, all remain closed to students, and the need is still there.
They planned all summer in the event students could return to the classroom this fall, said CLC Director Susan Spencer.
“We knew there was a community need,” she said.
The most difficult challenge was finding a location.
The space, located in the Woodland Mall, offers 5,000 square feet. The desks are 6 feet apart, there is a large screen on a wall to watch movies, and an area where kids can play in a bouncy house.
Spencer gave a shout out to mall Manager Michelle Barton and the district leadership team.
“Over the last several months, we have received phone calls from local parents inquiring on the types of services we were offering, and overwhelmingly heard parents’ voicing their concern for children while they were at work,” she said.
Mass capacity is 49 students, and it is full, with 17 families waiting.
“If we could open it up, we would have 100 kids a day,” Spencer said. “There are so many parents that need care for their kids during the day.”
Parent Stephanie Gregg has enrolled three children who attend Kenwood Elementary. When picking them up recently, she said it was amazing to have this program.
“We weren’t sure what to do, honestly. We were talking about one of us resigning and staying home, so this really helped out a lot,” Gregg said.
With two young children still at home, the program has allowed their father to focus on their care rather than instructing the older kids, she said.
Spencer is working on finding a second location that would allow the enrollment of 49 more children.
“I would love to expand it,” Spencer said. “In my mind, the more kids that we can serve, the better. The more parents we can help, the better.”
Jennifer Hunker, a parent of one child in the program who also attends Kenwood, said IMPACT has allowed her to go back to work full time and pay the bills.
She hopes the program continues “forever, until they go back to school full time.”
The Bowling Green City Schools Board of Education has voted to continue online classes for the foreseeable future.
Hunker’s husband works out of town and can’t make it home until 5:30 p.m., so if she does not have someplace to put her child during the workday, she can’t go to work.
“And that affects everybody,” Hunker said.
Staffing has been challenging since the program depends heavily on Bowling Green State University students, Spencer said.
A sliding fee scale, similar to what is offered during regular CLC programming, is charged.
IMPACT is open 7 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. During school hours, CLC staff assists students through virtual instruction, helping complete coursework and assisting through the transitions and technical issues they may have. In the hours leading up to school and after school, students participate in regular CLC activities, such as enrichment and cooperative activities, social-emotional curriculum, and physical activity.
Clara Duslak, a fifth grader at Kenwood, said she likes attending IMPACT because she gets to see her friends and make new friends.
She is enjoying learning this way because one of her classmates sits right behind her.
“I want to go back into the classroom so I can see my old friends,” she said. “I can’t really interact with them over the internet.”
Danica West, a 9-year-old who attends Conneaut Elementary, said she also enjoys attending IMPACT because it is fun, and she gets to be with other people.
She also eventually wants to get back into the classroom to see her friends.
Eight-year-old Keegan Spence, another Kenwood student, said while it is fun attending the day-long program, “I really want to get back into Kenwood.”
He paused then added “I want to stay here and go back into Kenwood because it’s very fun here, but I like going to school in person and not online.”
Spencer said even if the district had decided to go to a hybrid model of teaching, she expected to continue to offer the program.
“The kids will still need full-day care on the days that they’re not (in school),” she said.
That would be wonderful news for Gregg.
“I hope they continue even when they go onto the hybrid method,” she said, “because it’s going to make it so much easier on our household … and while (IMPACT) is helping them with their schoolwork, I can focus on my work and my significant other can stay at home and focus on the other two kids.”
She praised the workers for making sure her kids are paying attention and getting their assignments done on time.
The school district drops off breakfasts and lunches for the students and has provided paraprofessionals to help students with their schoolwork. Connecting Kids to Meals is providing take-home meals to students to have over the weekends.
Students and staff will adhere to CLC coronavirus safety policies and practices, including but not limited to social distancing, hand washing, masks and frequent sanitization.
“We hope that by opening this program, we are truly making an impact for the Bowling Green Community during these trying and uncertain times,” said Spencer.