By Susan Riemer
For The Beachcomber
Schools have been closed on Vashon for nearly two months, but most every day, a small number of students head to Chautauqua to take part in the free child care program for children of essential workers.
The program, which began March 23, is a joint effort between the Vashon Island School District and Vashon Youth & Family Services (VYFS). It serves students ages 4 to 12 whose parents are needed in the workplace, including firefighters, health care professionals and a judge. Jennifer Beck, a VYFS employee with the Vashon Kids child care program, serves as the site manager and lead teacher; a rotating shift of three Vashon Island School District teachers and paraeducators round out the child care staff.
The play-based program meets in Chautauqua’s cafeteria — the home of Vashon Kids — and includes time for homework as well as free time on the playground and in the gym as well as garden activities, bike and scooter riding, drawing and games. The district provides breakfast, lunch and a snack. So far, the program, which meets from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, has served 17 students, though attendance averages about five to seven children each day.
When Gov. Jay Inslee closed schools statewide in mid-March, he directed schools to continue feeding students and to provide childcare for essential workers. The Vashon Island School District is heeding that call.
“That is our mandate before student instruction — to make sure we are providing care for essential workers and continue the breakfast and lunch program for students needing food,” said Chautauqua Principal Rebecca Goertzel.
The small number of students allows for a structure that flows according to kids’ wants and needs.
“It’s been going great,” Beck said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Close attention is paid to health and sanitation measures, including morning fever checks and staff monitored hand-washing. Beck noted that when more than 10 people are present, they must break into two groups to comply with social distancing directives. The program is designed to fit changing numbers.
“Our job at the district is to be at the ready,” Goertzel said. “If all 17 of the kids of essential workers were all in need of care, we need to be ready for that.”
District superintendent Slade McSheehy said he is pleased that the district and VYFS could join forces to address this child care need, supported by administrators and staff from all three schools.
“Health care and emergency service workers are on the frontline every day, and the district would like to do everything we can to help,” he said.
Currently, the school district is paying for the program through its general fund and is tracking all COVID-19 expenditures. McSheehy said he is unsure if the district will see any reimbursement, but it will take advantage of any opportunities available through government sources. He noted that district officials are continuing to monitor the changes associated with the school closures and will quantify their impact as soon as possible.
For more information about the child care program for children of essential workers, email VashonKids@vysf.org.
Susan Riemer is a communications specialist with the Vashon Island School District and a former editor of The Beachcomber.