Working Indianapolis families and other caregivers struggling to oversee their children’s virtual learning will now have an option for free care. Daytime “learning sites,” intended for students whose school buildings are closed and remote learning is their only-option, are opening next week.
The education reform group The Mind Trust is providing $200,000 to 11 community centers and churches to offer immediate care and oversight of e-learning for an initial 500 school-age children. It’s also hiring “facilitators” to help oversee the students and provide general support.
Students from any district can attend a site, though the emphasis is on reaching students at Indianapolis Public Schools where around 70 percent students receive free meals, based on their family income. IPS is offering virtual-only classes starting Monday until at least early October when school buildings could start to reopen.
A survey of IPS families conducted in part by the The Mind Trust found many worried they can not balance their children’s online curriculum and working outside the home, said CEO Brandon Brown.
“That made us feel like it was a moral imperative to ensure that more families in IPS have access to child care and facilitation for e-learning that will help their families effectively navigate the next few months,” Brown said.
Families can find a learning site at CommunityLearningSites.org. Locations begin to open
Monday and offer care until Oct. 16, the end of IPS fall break.
Brown said the "learning site" concept was partially inspired by the national discussion about learning pods -- a term often used for groups of families collaborating to teach their children at home. But Brown said the focus on the pods centers around privileged families with economic means to create one or even hire their own teachers.
"We felt like that was a major equity issue if we're not trying to equip low-income families in IPS to do something similar," he said.
The initial funds from The Mind Trust to create the learning sites will cover about two months of expenses. Other philanthropic partners are required to expand the available seats and keep sites operating if remote-learning continues late into fall and beyond.
"Our assumption is that the number of seats we are able to provide through these grants will not meet the demand for families,” Brown said.
In Haughville, on the city’s westside, the pandmic caused families to struggle even more with child care, food and education support.
La'Toya Pitts, executive director of Christamore House, said the trickle down effects of the shutdown quickly impacted families. The center, which offers a wide-range of care and services for newborns to senior citizens, saw an increase need from all ages. Caregivers, she said, were hard hit.
“Some of our parents have multiple students and they work at places where working from home is not an option," Pitts said. "When you work at a factory or a fast-food restaurant that is still open and operating -- and yet your 5-year-old, 10-year-old and 12-year-old are supposed to be doing school from home -- it’s a struggle.”
Christamore House will offer 30 seats as part of The Mind Trust program. Pitts expects the need will far outpace the availability. To fit those seats, Pitts said, she has to make sure the 36,000-foot center can accommodate social distancing and additional staff who will give individual attention to the students.
Pitts hopes retired teachers will consider applying to work at Christamore House and the other sites.
"Virtual learning is not an ideal situation. We are doing the best with what we have,” Pitts said. “But I think we are definitely going to need educational support...of retired teachers.”
The funding will go toward personnel and facility-related costs, broadband access and infrastructure, meals, personal protective equipment, transportation and other expenses.
"All sites either already have authorization to provide school-age care or will pursue authorization through the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration," according to a Mind Trust press release.
IPS is offering in-person care for students with special needs and those facing homelessness.
Lerarning site locations
These are the locations of the sites. To register for a spot go to CommunityLearningSites.org.
- Chaney Microlearning Center, far east side
- Christamore House, near west side
- Cornerstone Lutheran Church Indianapolis, in partnership with Shepherd Community Center, east side
- Crossroads AME Church, midtown
- Edna Martin Christian Center, east side
- Freedom Academy Inc. (The Reset Center), far east side
- Hawthorne Community Center, west side
- Kids Inc., in partnership with Shepherd Community Center, south side
- Ralph Waldo Emerson School 58, in partnership with Shepherd Community Center, east side
- Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, midtown
- Westside Missionary Baptist Church, northwest side
Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.