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New Childcare Hubs Give Families An Option During Remote Learning

Students sit at long wooden tables in a spacious room.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Isabelle Jenne, standing, leads a class at the Community Campus in Woodstock. The childcare hub helps students with their remote learning when they are not in school.

As the new hybrid school year gets underway, the Agency of Human Services is continuing to open up new childcare hubs to give families an option when students are not in school.

The Community Campus in Woodstock is one of the state’s newest regional childcare hubs.

On a recent Wednesday morning at the hub, Kristiana Ploss was taking the kids’ temperatures, and checking them in.

All of the schools are closed on Wednesdays in the Windsor Central Supervisory Union, and so the center had a full load of students coming in for the day.

Ploss works part time here, and part time for the school district, and she acts as a kind of a link between the schools and this new childcare hub.

“We’re working with the superintendent and their principals and teachers,” Ploss said. “So we have access to the children’s online learning menus. We can print out their worksheets. We know what their projects are going to be.”

More from Vermont Edition: Vermont Officials Discuss Health And Safety Guidance As Schools Continue To Reopen

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely upended Vermont’s school system.

Most schools in Vermont are offering a hybrid learning model, with kids spending part of the week in class at school, and part of the week doing remote learning.

The idea here at The Community Campus is to have a safe place for the children when they’re not in school, but also support them in the remote learning they’re supposed to be doing those days when they’re not in the classroom.

“We helped to solve a problem for them, which is that they knew a lot of working families needed a structured option for their kids,” said Tesha Buss, one of the founders of the program in Woodstock.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Tesha Buss, left, and Kristiana Ploss go over the day's roster at the Community Campus in Woodstock. Each day is different at the childcare hub, as students from different schools attend as their school and family schedules dictate.

Buss says when schools abruptly went to remote learning at the end of last year, it was tough for everyone.

“While there is a small number of kids that really thrived in the remote learning days, the majority of kids did not,” Buss said. “And there were a lot of behavioral issues that were coming up for kids. And a lot of families were feeling extremely stressed and pulled in two different directions.”

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At the end of the last school year, when schools abruptly closed, students were left with only remote learning, and that meant a lot of screen time.

So now there’s a focus on helping students with their remote learning when they’re not in the classroomwithout so much technology, by staying in close contact with the district.

Buss and the other founders started planning for The Community Campus model even before the state announced that it would support regional childcare hubs with COVID-19 relief money.

"Having the Community Campus here is essential because where we work, we can't be driving around the state to take her elsewhere. And I don't know what we would have done if we didn't have this as an option." - Oliver Abbott, parent at The Community Campus

They found the top two floors of an early childcare center that was available and did renovations this summer to get ready for the school year.

But this is a school year, of course, like no other.

So there are health standards and social distancing protocols that must be followed, like taking temperatures and lots of hand washing.

Devi Belisle is a sixth grader from Woodstock Elementary School who’s spending a few days a week at the Community Campus, and like everyone else, she’s still getting used to it.

Kids wearing masks stand in front of the Community Campus
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Devi Belisle, 11, left, and Calvin Lehouiller, 12, stand at the door of The Community Campus in Woodstock.

“It’s going to be a little bit weird, because I’m going to have to like, be careful,” she said. “We’re not going to be able to play tag, or whatever games that we usually play. And we have to wear masks inside, which is alright, but it’s just a little bit weird and little bit awkward. But I think I’ll eventually get used to it, hopefully.”

More from VPR: Public Schools Will Be Allowed To Start Using Cafeterias, Holding Sports Competitions

Oliver Abbott lives in Woodstock and was dropping his six-year-old daughter off on his way to work.

“I work in Springfield, my wife works in Lebanon. And having the Community Campus here is essential because where we work, we can’t be driving around the state to take her elsewhere,” Abbott said. “And I don’t know what we would have done if we didn’t have this as an option.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman @hweisstisman.

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Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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