CORONAVIRUS

As Eastern Iowa schools turn to remote learning, day cares struggle to help

Helping kids with online classwork proves a challenge

Owen Degel, 5, and Jaxson Campbell, 6, hug Tuesday as their supervisor reminds them to #x201c;air-hug#x201d; instead whi
Owen Degel, 5, and Jaxson Campbell, 6, hug Tuesday as their supervisor reminds them to “air-hug” instead while playing soccer at the Kids Inc. day are center in Marion. The two are friends and have attended Kids Inc. together for years. The center is offering daytime care for the days when students are not in school. After playtime, elementary-age students returned to virtual learning inside. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — As College Community School District students this week pivoted to virtual learning, the Kids Inc. day care in Cedar Rapids scrambled to assist its elementary-school-age children in logging on to the classroom during the day.

College Community is one of almost a dozen school districts in Eastern Iowa that have moved instruction to virtual or a hybrid combination of in-person and online in an attempt to slow the rampant spread of COVID-19 and give staff time to recover or return from quarantine.

Day care centers, however, have stayed open and some are even taking on the responsibility of helping students learn during the day.

“We can’t day care virtually. We have to be here and we have to be around the kids,” said Lindsay Hobbs, director of Kids Inc. in Cedar Rapids.

Although Kids Inc. this week has only five elementary students, it was five additional students who wouldn’t normally be at the center during the school day.

The 30 or so elementary students Kids Inc. is serving this year would typically stay until 8:30 a.m. when the bus picks them up for school, and then return at 4 p.m.

The employees who watch those students in the morning and afternoon have other responsibilities during the day, like taking Kirkwood Community College classes, and Hobbs struggled to find someone to cover the shift on such short notice, she said.

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The day care center also doesn’t have enough bandwidth for virtual learning, Hobbs said. She wishes the school district would provide extra Wi-Fi hot spots and in-person assistance like paraeducators.

Hobbs, who has a 9-year-old son in the College Community district, feels fortunate her husband can stay home with him during the online school day while she provided day care to the community.

“I urge the public to please take responsibility. Think about how many people you’re coming in contact with on a daily basis and how many of those could be avoided,” Hobbs said.

The Kids Inc. in Marion also is taking on additional responsibilities with Linn-Mar students starting hybrid learning this week, attending school half in-person and half online.

Teaching is “not necessarily part of what we normally have to do,” said Kris Hale, director of Kids Inc. in Marion. “Of course we want to be there to help whoever needs it, and if someone needs extra help with their assignments, we’d be happy to try to do that.”

The Marion location is also struggling with not having enough Wi-Fi bandwidth, as well as staffing shortages because of people in quarantine or out sick with COVID-19. Because of this, the day care has been closing three hours early at 3 p.m. this week.

“Filling all of our spots for staffing has become quite difficult,” Hale said.

Holly Bright, director of Kidz R Us Too Daycare in Anamosa, said it has been a challenge to not only provide child care but ensure students are logged online to their classes when they’re supposed to be.

“To be put in the teacher role and the director role, it’s been a lot,” Bright said.

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The Anamosa Community School District moved to virtual learning earlier this month when cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in Jones County in two days.

The district was granted a second waiver last week for virtual instruction that started Tuesday and ends Nov. 24, returning to class after Thanksgiving break Nov. 30.

As of Nov. 12, the district reported 10 percent absenteeism for students and 16 percent for teaching staff. By Tuesday evening, Jones County’s 14-day positivity rate was 51.5 percent, the highest in Iowa, data showed.

Anamosa has provided the day care with an extra hot spot, but there still isn’t enough bandwidth for the students to have secure internet access, Bright said.

The center has five staff members, two of whom were at home quarantining or sick with COVID-19 last week.

The district has provided the Kidz R Us with a couple of paraeducators to help out day care students who are in online school, Bright said.

Even so, there isn’t enough room for all the families in need of day care services.

“I’ve had to turn families away,” Bright said. “I can only take so many (kids), and I have to keep some of my staff on backup in case anyone else gets sick or is exposed.”

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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