The Santa Barbara Unified School District launched a child care program with academic support services for children of essential staff members.
The children receive assistance with distance learning and participate in group activities, maintaining social distancing while their parents are at work.
There are two programs available for district staff: transitional kindergarten–eighth grade, with 170 students enrolled in the Academic Support Centers, and the Infant Childcare Center, with eight infants and toddlers. The Infant Childcare Center assists staff as well as teen parents who need child care to successfully engage in distance learning.
Kathy Serrano runs the transitional kindergarten–eighth grade program, and works as the after-school programs coordinator at SB Unified. She said employees saw this as a need in the community.
“The SBUSD staff has been working really hard all summer preparing for distance learning, and as full-time working mothers, we can relate to their need of having access to child care,” Ms. Serrano told the News-Press. “Having a safe place where students can get support with their own distance learning was something important for us to provide for the SBUSD staff. We understood that this would take a huge weight off of our staff’s shoulders, and in turn, they would be able to focus on providing the support that our SBUSD students need to have a successful distance learning experience.”
The Academic Support Centers are free to all district employees, covered by existing grants. The Infant and Toddler Care program is free for the teen parents and offered on a sliding scale for employees.
The programs began on Aug. 18, the first day of school for SB Unified students, and are intended to continue as long as distance learning is in place.
Ms. Serrano’s method of providing this assistance while also avoiding spreading COVID-19 involves keeping families together, and cohorting them by the parents’ worksites.
The transitional kindergarten–eighth grade programs are located at Franklin, Harding and McKinley elementary schools and Santa Barbara Community Academy. The Infant and Toddler programs are located at Santa Barbara High School.
Ms. Serrano told the News-Press she has no more than 12 students in each room, using tape to signal to the kids the space they’re allowed to be in. All rooms are completely sanitized each night.
The Academic Support Centers provide each student with his/her own set of materials, devices and PPE.
The adults walk around, while maintaining social distance, answering any questions the children have. Once the children finish their assignments, they participate in enrichment activities.
Ms. Serrano said she tries to get them outside and running around as much as possible as weather allows. If it doesn’t, she said the kids do arts and crafts.
Ms. Serrano’s own children are enrolled in the programs.
“I don’t see it as us providing in-person education because we are not the ones providing or doing the actual teaching,” she said. “We’re supporting the distance learning, but the actual teaching is coming from credentialed distance teachers.”
Vincente Belmonte is a custodian at Monroe Elementary School. He has two daughters attending Harding’s Academic Support Center.
“Without this program, I would have felt lost. I’m an essential worker. My wife is also an essential worker — she works for the U.S. Postal Service,” he told the News-Press. “Without this program, one of us would have had to stay at home with the children on a daily basis. That would have meant loss of income for our family, and we wouldn’t have been able to continue to provide the essential support that we provide to our community.”
He added that the program gives him peace of mind knowing his kids are getting the support they need during this time of uncertainty.
While the programs are only offered for district employees and teen parents, more support is coming for any parents with essential jobs who need it.
“We are working with the United Way to create child care opportunities for district students who need a safe and supportive place to go during the school day,” Camie Barnwell, the public information officer for SB Unified, told the News-Press. “We will be sharing more details about these opportunities in the coming weeks.”