Pittsburgh's Jewish Community Center creates childcare program for kids attending online classes | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh's Jewish Community Center creates childcare program for kids attending online classes

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s “All Day at the J” program, beginning on Mon., Aug. 31, will provide a physical daytime learning environment for kids K-6, who are attending online classes while their parents and/or guardians are away at work.

The program, which is now full with a wait list as of Aug. 19, will serve 85 students from 12 different schools at the JCC’s Squirrel Hill location and 36 students from three different school districts at the South Hills location. Enrollment costs are $2,095 for the nine-week program, matched up to the current nine-week period that Pittsburgh Public Schools has designated so far for remote schooling.

The program is intended to support kids whose parents are working during the day, and who may already rely on the JCC for childcare. Priority registration was opened to families with children already enrolled in the JCC’s Clubhouse after-school program or the JCC’s Early Childhood Development Center, and 70% of students who ended up enrolling were already enrolled in Clubhouse. So far, the majority of students are in grades K-2, according to Rachael Speck, Director of Children, Youth, and Family at the JCC.

“This is a crazy time, and we know how much the kids need socialization, and how many of them have now probably spent months in isolation,” says Speck. “For kids to be in a safe environment here, where they can do their schoolwork and get that socialization, and for parents to have peace of mind that their kids are in a safe place getting the support that they need so that they can go back to work — that, in a nutshell, is what All Day at the J is.”

As many previously offered programs at the JCC have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the centers now have space for small groups of students — never more than 12 at a time in one room — to spread out. Students will be required to bring their own technology, but some shared school supplies will be offered.

During the day, students will log on to their online classes and can receive support from JCC staff who will be present in their classrooms to help. Staff will, among other things, help kids with using technology, communicating with their teachers, submitting assignments, and having good time management, and may also facilitate small-group work.

“A big piece of this is the staff we have, who are here and ready to support these kids, and can dedicate their time to supporting these kids in their online learning in the way that a parent who is working full time from home or from an office just can’t do,” Speck says.

Many of the staff members who will run All Day at the J also previously worked with the Center’s summer camp and after-school programs, a factor which Speck hopes will help make the process smoother for kids who may already recognize them.

“This can be a really scary time for kids," Speck says. "Not only are they going to be able to come here all day, they’re going to come here and see familiar faces and staff who they already know."

Throughout the school day, kids will participate in structured and unstructured “brain breaks," which will act as a substitute for recess where kids can play with toys, exercise, and utilize some of the other facilities the JCC offers.

“I’m an adult, and it’s tough for me to stay staring at a screen every day! I can’t imagine how taxing it would be for these kids to stay digitally engaged all day,” Speck says. “So, we want them to get a change of scenery, and get out of the classroom to get a chance to do some of these other activities.”

So far, Speck says community response has been positive, and the program quickly filled up from the day it was announced on Aug. 10. Speck says that one of parents’ biggest concerns — and one of the program’s priorities — is health and safety.

“We ran day camps this summer in person over three different facilities, with over 425 kids enrolled, and we had no positive cases,” she said. “We now have a reputation — they know that we are safe. We’re following all CDC guidance and local health guidance. We are not messing around when it comes to health and safety.”

Students will be screened in their car or when walking up before coming into the center, and will not be allowed in if anyone in their family has a fever. Kids will stay in their small groups for the whole day, and time in between activities is built in for equipment to be sanitized. Staff and students alike will wear masks in accordance with state policy.

For now, the program is scheduled to last for nine weeks, but if the Pittsburgh Public Schools' schedule extends remote learning for longer, Speck says that All Day at the J may extend its schedule, too.

“We are really prepared to support kids in their online learning. They are still going to school — they may not be going in person, but they are going to be at the JCC and going to school virtually.”