The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana helped influence an executive order signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb recently to increase child care options during the time of virtual school, President and CEO Ryan Smiley said.
The executive order, signed by Holcomb Aug. 21, allows school corporations to contract with organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA to operate school-age child care programs and allows facilities to stay open and provide child care during the school day without being licensed.
“We have always operated, since our existence, as a non-licensed child care — we’ve been exempt from licensing, and that’s a good thing for many reasons,” Smiley said. “What the executive order really allowed us to do was open up all day during the school year and provide virtual learning assistance.”
Smiley said when the Boys and Girls Club realized the struggles that would come with child care during the time of online learning they pushed the state to allow them to operate for a full 12-hour day during the school year rather than the usual four hours.
“We knew that there had to be some type of policy change considering the environment that we were in,” Smiley said. “We were cautiously optimistic that we could influence that. As a result of elected officials that believe in and understand what we do and the importance of us providing care … they were able to influence the governor.”
Since the club helped push for the executive order, Smiley said they knew it was coming and planned ahead, promoting the option to families in advance and changing room layouts to accommodate for both social distancing and online learning.
“We have kind of modified our clubs into fun classrooms by age and grade level,” Smiley said. “Our staff are working with our kids kind of on an individual basis to ensure they keep up with their class work and their studies and complete all their assignments on time.”
If the governor had not signed the order, Smiley said in order for the Boys and Girls club to allow students to work on eLearning at their buildings during the school day, they would have had to stay closed for several months while working on getting licensed.
“We don’t want to be licensed — not that we couldn’t, but there are so many restrictions on that licensing and it really doesn’t apply to us,” Smiley said. “It would really change and negatively influence our operations and what we’re able to do.”
The order also allows school corporations to use public school buildings to help families who need care while students do eLearning, and increases the number of school-aged children allowed to gather in a home on school days without the setting needing to be licensed from six to ten.
Jill Schaffenberger, marketing director at Crossroads YMCA, said since the executive order was signed Aug. 21, the YMCA has worked on creating several programs for families in the area to use during the time of eLearning, all of which will begin on Sept. 8.
“We’re going to have an out-of-school learning and eLearning assistance program available and that’s going to be available at two of our Crosswords YMCA locations, and we’re having five-day care available at our Griffith YMCA,” Schaffenberger said.
The program at the YMCA will have three components — before care, core care and after care — and will run daily from 6 a.m. to 6: 30 p.m., Schaffenberger said, noting before care is available from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., core care is available during the school day and after care is available until 6: 30 p.m.
“We’re hoping to have a good program,” Schaffenberger said. “We know it’s going to be a nice safe place and it’s going to have good balance between eLearning and physical activity, and it will have lunch and break times and stuff, too.”
Portage Township Schools has partnered with the YMCA in order to provide additional child care for both working families and employees during the time of the pandemic, said Melissa Deavers-Lowie, director of communications at Portage Township Schools.
“We’re really thankful for these organizations for making accommodations for our students and for this partnership with the YMCA so we can be able to provide that for our staff members and for our community members as well,” Deavers-Lowie said.
The signing of the executive order will assist families throughout the state in providing child care amid the time of eLearning during the pandemic, and Smiley said it was good that it was signed by Holcomb this month.
“The timing was critical,” Smiley said. “We appreciate the governor and those elected officials that helped influence policy, because that’s what has happened.”
Hannah Reed is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.