YMCA helps support charter school’s remote learning

Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 06, 2020

HADLEY — Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School is doing entirely remote instruction as the fall semester begins, but some of its students will be in the Route 9 building beginning Monday for a day care program being launched in partnership with Hampshire Regional YMCA.

The program, considered “remote learning enrichment” that Gov. Charlie Baker authorized in late August, will run for nine weeks, or up until the Thanksgiving break.

In an email to the charter school’s families, Principal Kathy Wang wrote that discussions with the YMCA began in August about how to provide the child care service as the school awaited permission from the state.

“We are pleased to help support families with the YMCA’s program,” Wang wrote.

According to the YMCA website, “The purpose of this program is to give your children a safe space to engage in their online schooling, while being supervised by our qualified staff members. We are here to assist with technical difficulties, questions, and general support. Our staff want to support and supervise your child in the best way that we can.”

Alison MacLeod, director of operations for the YMCA, said in an email that the agency was interested in expanding the existing before- and afterschool programs during the period of remote learning.

“The program will be provided as long as there is a need within our community,” MacLeod said. “At this time we have planned to make adjustments when and if schools decide it is appropriate to return to in-person instruction.”

All staff will be working directly for the Hampshire Regional YMCA, and it will handle all operational costs, MacLeod said.

In Franklin County, at least three organizations and businesses, including the YMCA in Greenfield, are providing similar supervised guided learning programs. In addition to the YMCA, they are Ja’Duke Preschool in Montague and Nam’s Taekwondo Center in Greenfield.

At the Chinese immersion school, parents and guardians have several options to choose from, including before-school care that runs from 7 to 8 a.m., full-day options that include kindergarten and first grade from 8 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., second through fifth grades from 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. and sixth grade and up from 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m., and extended care that runs from dismissal until 5:30 p.m.

The before-school care costs either $25 or $30, each full-day option costs $225 or $245 and the extended care costs $50 or $60. Bundles for $250 or $300 gives parents and guardians the chance to have their children on site from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

YMCA is calling the program “Classroom Connections Plus,” and is also holding a similar program at the YMCA site on Prospect Street in Northampton. Bianco said YMCA is looking for other locations.

Though the governor is allowing such programs to be licensed through the Department of Early Education and Care as a way to support students doing remote learning, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has been contacted by PVCICS parents concerned about whether it is appropriate to have at the school, and whether such a program is being used as justification for not creating a plan for reopening.

The school has so far only announced the remote opening plan, stating on its website that “this is subject to change as data and state requirements related to COVID-19 are released.”

In-person learning every day and for all students has been deemed impossible based on a 6-foot physical distancing standard, since it would require significantly more classroom space than exists, even if the library, art and music rooms are repurposed for classroom learning.

But the school’s reopening plans does show that hybrid reopening at some point might be doable, though the plans provide no timeline.

“Although PVCICS is opening with a remote model, PVCICS will evaluate DPH COVID-19 metrics, as per the August 11, 2020 DESE guidelines, to determine whether it is safe to phase into a hybrid model.”

MacLeod said the program will not compromise the safety of the building, as the students will be in small cohorts and limited numbers, and follow all guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state’s early education department.

“We are following very strict health and safety policies and procedures that are designed to safeguard our members, our staff and our community,” MacLeod said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.