AUGUSTA — The city of Augusta’s child care program will expand to help give working parents a safe, educational place for their kids to go when they’d normally be in school amid the coronavirus pandemic.

City councilors Thursday unanimously approved the expansion of the city’s child care program to become full-time through the coming school year, allowing care to be offered to children on weekdays when, in a normal school year, they’d be in school and the program would only offer before and after-school child care to parents.

But this isn’t a normal year because of the pandemic, and Augusta Schools students won’t be going to school every day.

Under the schools’ current reopening plan, half of the student population will go to school two days a week, while the other half will go two other days of the week, meaning all students will not physically be in school for three out of five days of the week. And if there is an increase in coronavirus cases in the area, officials could decide to not have any in-person classes, replacing them with remote, online learning.

Out of concern that could leave parents, especially working parents, in need of somewhere for their kids to go, officials of the city’s child care program proposed to expand to offer child care throughout the day on weekdays.

Some parents are thrilled their kids will be able to go to the Buker Community Center this school year where the child care programs are provided.

Arianna Gitchos, 6, left, Archer Rowe, 5, and Erin Bolduc, director of Kinder Camp, left, play with blocks and dinosaurs Wednesday at Buker Community Center in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Jessica Watts, who already has her two kids Allison, 6, and Taylor, 10, signed up for the school-year care, said without it the girls would probably stay home with her, but that makes it all but impossible for her to concentrate on her full-time job while working from home as a benefits analyst.

She works at home and her husband at his office, and both have worked throughout the pandemic.

“I bring them there because I can’t work when they’re here, nothing gets done. It’s a focus on them, not on my job,” said Watts, whose kids have taken part in the city’s summer child care program for years. “The staff are awesome, they love my kids like their own children. So I know my kids are safe, active, doing something and that they’re fed, so that’s off my plate and I don’t have to worry about it during the day.”

Jennifer Fales — whose kids Ainsley, 7, and Everly, 5, are in the summer program and have been signed up for the new school year program — said it was a struggle at the end of last school year when schools closed to in-person learning and sent students home. It was difficult for Fales and her partner, who both are considered essential state employees and have worked throughout the pandemic, to also be parents and teachers all at the same time.

Jen Fales, left, takes her children Everly, 5, and Ainsley, 7, into the city child care center Wednesday at Buker Community Center in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“We were working from home and trying to school our children and keep them busy,” she said. “I took a lot of time off, because it was really hard to juggle both parents trying to work and two kids at home. Honestly, I don’t know how we’d manage without (the new school year program). It’s a lifesaver for our family.”

Both moms said they especially appreciate that the program will have an educational component to it, as staff there will help students with their assigned remote learning school work, and time out of each day will be dedicated to learning.

The Buker Community Center has already upgraded its Wi-Fi system and other enhancements are forthcoming to ensure children will be able to use their school-supplied laptops to do online school work.

To take on the additional work, the city plans to hire five full-time workers for the child care program. The total cost of adding the staff and making other changes to expand the program is expect to be about $550,000, according to Bethany Sproul-LeBrun, child care director for the city of Augusta.

Community Services Director Leif Dahlin said some of those costs could be covered by COVID-19 relief funds. The rest will be covered by program fees and by taking money from the child care program’s fund balance. Fund balance accounts are generally made up of funds unspent in previous years and reserved for emergency uses.

Sproul-LeBrun said the summer child care program has already gotten some COVID-19 relief funds from the federal CARES Act and there is a strong likelihood more will become available that could help pay the costs of expanding child care.

Erin Bolduc, director of Kinder Camp, left, plays blocks and dinosaurs with Archer Rowe, 5, and Arianna Gitchos, 6, on Wednesday at Buker Community Center in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The program can take up to 90 kids this school year, with fees ranging between $100 and $140 a week. Parents can apply for the program online at augustaparksrec.com.

Sproul-LeBrun anticipates it will fill up.

If it does, officials will prioritize whose kids get in. Children of essential workers, such as those in public safety and medical jobs, as well as youths who may not be in safe environments without the program, will get first priority.

City councilors, several of whom expressed support for the proposal when it was first made last week, voted unanimously to approve it Thursday night, without debate.

The city’s child care program closed in March when concerns about the spread of the coronavirus hit Maine, but reopened in June after the state released guidelines under which day cares could reopen.

Modifications made to allow the program to reopen during the pandemic included reducing the number of children in each of the program’s five classrooms to allow for social distancing, ensuring groups of children don’t interact with each other, and, starting about three weeks ago, requiring children in the program to wear masks while in public indoor areas.

 

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.