essex rec recreation office maple street park

The Essex Rec offices at Maple Street Park.

It might come as some relief to area families to hear that there will be an option for their children to be looked after during the days they are not in school.

Essex Junction Recreation & Parks (EJRP) and the Essex Westford School District (EWSD) have teamed up to form what’s being called Rec Kids Supported Learning Spaces, a program that will supervise students in grades K-8 in the district, as well as those of EWSD, Town of Essex, and Village of Essex Junction employees who live elsewhere.

“We are hoping that the start of the school year goes well and that we will be able to provide the option for families to have their kids attend in-person instruction five days a week sometime this fall,” said EWSD Superintendent Beth Cobb. “Until then, we recognize the needs of our community and are happy to support this important initiative.” She added, “Our teachers need to teach with assurance that their own children’s needs are being safely met. We believe this will support them, too.”

Families are being given the opportunity to have their children be taken care of during the days they are not attending in-person learning. The program is free of charge from 7:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. An after school option is also available for children in grades K-5 until 6 p.m. for a fee.

“We believe it is critical that students have a safe, supervised environment to be in when they are not at school,” said EJRP Director Brad Luck. “Additionally, they need to be well-nourished and supported in their academic activities when working remotely. We recognize that not all parents can or want to be teachers, and not all students learn well either from their parents, or from home, or in isolation away from their peers.”

Essex Unified Manager Evan Teich said the anticipated sites are not charging the town to use their spaces, but the town is contributing for expenses such as electricity.

“We are extremely grateful for their generosity and community spirit and could not do this without them,” said Teich. He also said that costs for the child care are coming out of the EJRP program fund while EWSD is helping defray costs by providing staffing.

Students will be in groups of 12 kids and at least one staff member and will be assigned to locations based on their grade. Staff will be a mix of EJRP employees and members of the school district who will be able to assist children with their remote learning. Two dedicated blocks of time each day are scheduled for students to work on academic assignments, but activities, arts and crafts, worksheets, and books will be provided for when kids complete their school work or don’t have any that day.

“This won’t be school, and this won’t be childcare in a traditional sense,” said EJRP School Age Childcare Director Maureen Gillard. “We believe that, in addition to academic support, it will be critical to create opportunities for social interaction and physical activity to support the social and emotional needs and development of our students. We are confident that this program will serve all of those needs in a safe environment, and it will be fun!”

EWSD will be providing breakfast and lunch each day for kids in the program, but families will be responsible for transportation.

Safety guidelines at the Supported Learning Spaces will be similar to those for the schools in the district and include daily temperature checks and the maintenance of physical distancing. Staff and students will be required to wear face masks -- it being recommended that children bring two each day.

EJRP has been providing forms of care since March 18 for children of essential workers, starting with around 40 before increasing to 80. Over the summer, the department has been helping watch 180 kids through daily camps.

“We are well prepared for this and well-versed in the precautions that are necessary,” said Gillard.

The program begins on the first day of school, Tuesday, Sept. 8, and will continue until five-days-a-week in-person instruction becomes available. Online registration has been disabled, but families can email Gillard at mgillard@ejrp.org to discuss possible options.

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