Emergency child care centers continue to pop up across the city more than a month into the school year.
With hundreds of slots already filled at churches and some schools tapped to help families in need, more help is coming to the East End effective Oct. 26, according to the director of a nonprofit that’s operating a center at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.
Spots supported by federal coronavirus relief funds first came online in September at Battery Park and Movement churches through programs run by the YMCA. Up to 100 more students will soon be able to go to MLK under a program administered by the Peter Paul Development Center, a nearby nonprofit.
“We’re all trying to do what’s in the best interest of our children and families … We ask for a little patience and grace as we try to be the servant leaders we’ve been hired and elected to be,” said Damon Jiggetts, executive director of Peter Paul, which recently finalized an agreement with the school system.
Surrounding localities established child care centers in some of their schools before tens of thousands of students across the region started the year online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Richmond opened centers at Blackwell and Miles Jones elementary schools on Oct. 5.
The School Board decided it would enter into a memorandum of understanding with the three providers — YMCA, Peter Paul Development Center and Richmond Behavioral Health Authority — despite some board member’s concerns about taking more responsibility for a program Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration pushed.
In August, the School Board agreed to let the city use five schools for the program: Miles Jones, Blackwell, MLK, and Linwood Holton Elementary School and Huguenot High School. Each school can serve up to 100 children. Miles Jones and Martin Luther King will supervise a smaller number of children until the more staffers are hired.
“I’m glad that we’re able to come to a reasonable agreement to make this work, but ultimately we need to make sure as a school division that these providers are upholding the responsibilities of student safety,” said Scott Barlow, the 2nd District School Board representative.
YMCA is expected to oversee the most centers, including Miles Jones, Huguenot High School and Linwood Holton elementary schools. The latter two have yet to open as the center plans to utilize the schools if registration and staffing availability warrant it.
Currently, the YMCA can hold only half of the maximum number of children at Miles Jones. Huguenot and Holton have yet to open registration due to the staffing shortage, according to Pamela Smith, YMCA’s operations director of youth development.
The center is in the process of hiring more employees to meet its ratio of 13 students (six for kindergartners) to one worker.
The Richmond Behavioral Health Authority is working with the center at Blackwell Elementary School to serve students with special needs. So far, the facility is accommodating 40 students, many of whom already work with RBHA.
RPS approached Peter Paul around late July about being a part of the initiative. Jiggetts says the center didn’t submit its name until mid-September.
Weeks earlier, the city attorney’s office told Richmond Public Schools that City Hall would no longer sign a memorandum of understanding regarding the child care centers. The city did not want to be liable for anything that could happen within the centers since there would have been no city workers physically present , according to school division officials.
“It does our families an incredible injustice to pitch ideas when there are so many more questions than answers,” Richmond School Board member Kenya Gibson said in an interview at the time.
RPS agreed to provide internet access, breakfast and lunch for students at the system’s facilities. Providers manage other items including transportation to and from the facilities; daily custodial services, including trash removal and deep cleaning of assigned approved sites.
The city also is providing grants to three independent providers: Blacktop Kings and Queens Sports Academy in Swansboro, St. James’s Children’s Center and Mount Olive Baptist Church in the Fan District are now open for registration. Stoney announced Wednesday that the city will also partner with the Friends Association for Children, a childcare and youth development organization with locations in Church Hill and Jackson Ward, to further expand the program’s capacity.
The churches are open to all children, while Mount Olive will focus on kids who are considered “disengaged” and haven’t been regularly attending classes, Stoney said earlier this month.
RPS has said two-thirds of slots at the learning centers will be available free of charge for families who qualify for Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
More information about childcare is available from Help1RVA.org.
Staff writer C. Suarez Rojas contributed to this report