WAYNE, NJ – The Wayne Board of Education recently approved their plan to reopen public schools in September. It is a hybrid model with students learning in the classroom part-time, while most of the school work will be done virtually from home. For many two-income families or single-parent/single-income families, this will present a difficult situation. 

“This has been very stressful,” Said Susan Brock, who has three children in the Wayne school istrict. “I have to return to work, and I’m left to figure out how to afford nearly-full-time child care for my kids and then have time to help with homework and their virtual schoolwork.  I cannot do this alone.”

Susan’s plight is one that is shared all over Wayne, all over New Jersey and across the nation.  This is our new normal, and working parents are looking for outside help so that their children don’t fall behind educationally. One option is the Boys & Girls Club of Northwest New Jersey (BGCNWNJ), which has a facility in Wayne and another in Pequannock. They are stepping up to help working families by filling the gap left by the school’s new hybrid model. 

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TAPinto spoke with the staff at the Wayne site of the BGCNWNJ to learn how they are preparing to provide comprehensive child care for the community, which includes learning support for several age groups, while also ensuring safety during a global pandemic. They touched on several aspects of their plan including safety protocols, schedules, and how they’ve adapted to continue to serve the needs of their community. 

Safety

“Safety is our utmost concern,” said Joe Lynch, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Northwest New Jersey. “The health of the children that are entrusted to our care and that of our professional staff is paramount to everything we do.

"We are going beyond the guidelines required by the state and the CDC," said Dan Dipsey, the Youth Director at BGCNWNJ. "We are taking the health and safety of our members extremely seriously and have been preparing for months. We have staff members on the reopening committees for the Wayne and Pequannock school districts and are collaborating with them to best serve the children of our local communities.” 

BGCNWNJ has been running a summer program since mid-June, and they believe it’s been a great success.  There has been no health issues and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Dipsey.  “We are not coming into a brand new, scary situation in September,” he said. “We have policies in place that have been working great, and a trained and confident staff that has created a really strong program.”

Kris Smith, the Chief Operations Officer said: “One of the most important decisions we made was to make our facility exclusive to the childcare program. The only people who come through these doors are the kids, staff, and the cleaning crew. We do not have any vendors, parents or sports programs entering the building. It’s childcare only.” 

By limiting their facility to only childcare, the BGCNWNJ is keeping the potential for cross-contamination to a minimum. As an additional precaution, their facility is cleaned regularly with an ultraviolet disinfection system to sterilize the buildings and mitigate the risk from viruses, bacteria and germs.

“Not only that, but our screening process is very thorough,” said Dipsey. “No one comes through our doors unless they go through our screening process, which includes a temperature check and a symptoms screening.”

Hand washing and sanitizing are so prevalent at the Club that Smith says that its become just routine now.

Of course, masks are another safety measure that the club is reinforcing, but they are working to change attitudes about wearing them.  “We are making it fun,” said Dipsey. “We’ve designed superhero masks one week, and did tie-dye another. We let them personalize their masks and made them something the kids all want to show off.”  

Kristy Borrows is a mom whose son has been attending the BGCNWNJ summer program. She has been very impressed. “The safety measures they have in place and the attention to the CDC guidelines is exceptional,” she said. “For me, the safest place is home but the next safest is the Club. Thank you for keeping our children happy and most importantly safe!”

Staff Training

“I’m sure every facility can speak to the safety protocols they have in place,” said Lynch. “But more important than that is making sure our staff is trained to implement the protocols on a daily basis.”

“We have re-written our training manual, and retrained our professional staff to make sure that they are all well-versed in every aspect of our program,” added Devon Maloney, the BGCNWNJ Marketing and Resource Development Director.

“Not only do our staff members know how to mentor children, support them and care for them, but they also know how to keep everyone safe and keep children separated while also keeping them engaged,” said Maloney. “We train staff on how to build a good rapport with the children, so there is a level of comfort that reduces stress and makes it easier for us to implement our protocols and keep everyone as safe as possible.”

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Availability and Transportation

There are more than 6,000 students in the Wayne school district from preschool through eighth grade. Because of social distancing and the government’s limits on childcare facilities, availability is at a premium. 

“Part of how we are keeping everyone safe is limiting the sizes of the groups in our rooms so that we can constantly maintain social distancing,” said Dipsey. “The state limit is 10 kids per class, so this puts a limit on how many kids can enroll in our fall program.  There is no doubt that we will fill up quickly and start to have waiting lists, so I would suggest parents reach out right away.”

BGCNWNJ offers programming for children 6 weeks to 8th grade, five days a week from 7:30am - 6:30pm. This includes transportation from all the Wayne school’s to their facility. So when a child is done with school at 1:15 p.m. or 1:45 p.m., Mom or Dad won’t have to leave work to pick them up.  

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Virtual Learning Support

Last spring, Wayne School's distance learning was introduced in a hurry, with little preparation and many parents felt that their child’s education suffered. This fall, Wayne schools will be much more prepared and so will the Boys & Girls Club.

“Without a doubt, the key element to our program is our virtual learning support,” said Dipsey. “Our goal is that we will be able to help children get their work done properly and in a timely manner.  We recognize that keeping up with academics is incredibly important during all of this, and we are prepared to make sure kids are truly engaging in their virtual learning and have the needed support to succeed.”

During the school’s virtual learning time, students will be learning with their class and their teacher online. At the BGCNWNJ, they will have a trained staff member supporting them, troubleshooting issues, answering questions and when necessary, communicating with the teachers for any needed clarification. After school is over the schedule will include fun, organized activities, and homework help.

To accommodate all the children at their facility, the BGCNWNJ has updated their internet technology. “We have increased our bandwidth to ensure that every child can access the technology they will need throughout the day,” said Dipsey.

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Mind, Body & Soul

“The emotional aspect for these kids is more important than ever,” said Maloney. “As we are in the middle of a pandemic and there is a lot for everyone to worry about, including the kids. Stay-at-home orders have an effect on a child’s mental well-being, and it’s important we tend to that.” 

Dipsey jumped in. “At the beginning of our summer program, the kids were unsure about how to interact with one another,” he said. “They were a little standoffish after several months of not being around people, but with our guidance, and some new social distance ‘hand-shakes,’ they got comfortable with their new normal.”

“It’s important to understand how crucial the social aspect is for kids right now,” said Maloney. “Seeing the kids open up, laugh and feel a much-needed sense of normalcy has been wonderful. We are seeing the kids re-bloom at the club and it makes us all very happy.”  

Ryan is a 12-year-old who is now attending the BGCNWNJ summer program. “I’m happy to come here and do fun activities instead of being home doing nothing," he said. “I love being around people, playing games, and the counselors are the best.”

Part of the BGCNWNJ culture is that every activity they have the children do has a developmental component to it. “This is about servicing the whole child,” said Maloney. “Everything has a purpose behind it. It's not just playing games, just to play. The activities encourage teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking skills along with general social and peer-building skills.”

Dipsey provided an example. “This summer we built our own mini-golf course,” he said. “All the kids in the group participated in the planning, designing and construction phase with the end result that everyone got to play mini golf.  The kids’ goal was to play; our goal was to have the kids learn, and both goals were achieved.”

Being a part of Boys & Girls Club of America comes with great benefits and resources. “We have a Boys & Girls Club app that all of our staff has access to,” explained Dipsey. “There is a library of games and activities based on age, and each one keeps the social distancing aspect into it. We have a whole national team creating ways to keep the kids engaged through this, and that is really helpful for our staff.”

Keeping kids moving, especially after the stay at home orders is another priority in the program. “We always want our kids engaged and keep them active,” said Dipsey. “I had a parent say to me recently that they were so happy to see their child come home tired from summer camp. For me, that was a great compliment.”

The BGCNWNJ programming is detailed and comprehensive.  According to Dipsey, every day is structured, so that the staff knows what’s going to happen hour-by-hour. There will be time for school, time for getting homework done, time for play and time for exercise. They introduce a new theme each week with activities to keep the experience novel and exciting for the children and the staff.

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Scholarships

At the last Wayne Board of Education online meeting, the point was made that, due to finances, many families will not be able to provide the academic and social support that children would normally have access to in school.   

BGCNWNJ believes that every child should have access to safe and reliable programming. In an effort to ensure this, they created the Neighbors in Hardship Scholarship Fund which regularly awards enrollment scholarships to families who need it the most.  

“Child care is the most critical service we can offer the community right now,” said Maloney. “People are dealing with enough. They don’t need to worry about how to keep their kids safe while they are at work.” 

The Neighbors in Hardship Scholarships are funded by BGCNWNJ’s community partners along with donations from local residents 

“Our community has shown up to support those who need it, and we are so grateful,” added Maloney. “But as the need continues to increase due to Covid-19, our need for funding does as well”. 

Donations for the scholarships fund can be made on the  BGCNWNJ website. 

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With several choices for childcare available in and around Wayne, parents will consider many aspects to choose the right facility for their children. The BGCNWNJ is one option, but given everything they provide, how thorough their safety protocols are, the quality of their staff and their commitment to serving the whole child, many feel that it would be tough to find a better place for your child to learn and grow during this current crisis.

Families can register based on their child’s individual schedules or full time. In addition to school-aged children, their Early Childhood Education offers care and education for kids 6 weeks to 5-years-old, five days a week. Programs run on a monthly enrollment and schedules are subject to change based on district and state decisions. 

BGCNWNJ is following all CDC guidelines which include restrictions on group sizes and building capacities so space is limited. 

Click here to register for the BGCNWNJ fall program.