Our Kids Need our Community to Act Now

By Sophie Felts, donor, concerned neighbor, and Founder of Sophie Felts Floral Design

My husband and I have four elementary school kids in Montgomery County, MD. Their teachers are some of the most creative, dedicated and hard-working teachers in the entire world (in my humble opinion). But distance learning last spring was ROUGH for our family. Our little kids, a 4th grader, a pair of second graders, and kindergartner, needed constant parental help with their Zoom calls. Our family ended the spring semester with academic regression, frayed nerves, and one less full-time job.

Part of me felt relieved, though, when Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) decided to go virtual this fall. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about my kids getting exposed to coronavirus at school. The other part of me remembered how hard the spring semester had been. That’s when the real panic began to set in. It sank into my gut. If MY family was struggling, imagine how thousands of low-income and essential worker families in our community would suffer.

Our county is the 15th largest school district in the nation. Distance learning logistics are intense, and the county has been working hard to deliver academics to every school child. To an extent, it really is working, at least in theory. The academic component of school IS being provided by teachers teaching on-line. But the childcare component of schooling, so crucial to working families, is missing.

Many families are figuring it out. They are moving to one salary, with many women leaving the workforce. They are hiring staff to create learning pods. They are relying on friends and family. Unfortunately, thousands of other families have fewer resources, and their children are left home alone or in the care of older siblings juggling their own schoolwork. 

These problems felt huge and hard and heavy. So, I started to research solutions. I sat in on County meetings, participated in MCPS forums, reached out to principals and PTA presidents, and called up other parents and business leaders. My first glimmer of hope came in the form of a woman named Rory Richardson. Rory, who is brilliantly energetic and insanely hard-working, along with her team at Bar T Ranch (one of the largest childcare providers in the area), had an idea.

Bar-T Ranch teamed up with 15 other certified child-care providers to develop the “Learning Hub” concept. Each hub has two adult staff members to support a group of up to 13 children.  Providers follow strict safety protocols and each hub occupies its own room. Children have staff at the ready to help them log into classes and lots of exercise and play in between classes. With nine hours of childcare coverage each weekday, parents are able to keep their jobs. 

This fall, our local childcare providers hope to operate as many Learning Hubs as possible in MCPS elementary schools. The barrier, of course, is money. It costs $1,200 per month for one child to participate in a Learning Hub. For many parents, this simply is not feasible. 

What could be done to help fund Learning Hubs? 

I decided to ask Anna Hargrave and Kimberly Rusnak from the Montgomery County office of the Greater Washington Community Foundation. Anna and Kimberly take their mission of building more equitable and just communities seriously. They are both determined and dedicated and are doing the hard work day in and day out. 

I was delighted to discover the Children’s Opportunity Fund, one of the foundation’s impact initiatives, was already working to seeking solutions to help address the needs of kids struggling with remote learning.  I was thrilled that Children’s Opportunity Fund could become the primary mechanism to raise childcare “scholarships” for the families who need it the most. 

I’m happy to report that we have raised over $500,000! This week, our first 32 scholarship students started “school” in their hubs and there are more opening up in the coming weeks which are projected to help at least 100 kids. That is but a tiny percentage of the 29,000 county children who need our help.  We, as a community, need to keep going. We have momentum.

Lots of us want to help – we just don't know how. A gift to the Children's Opportunity Fund is a real way to make an impact right away.

In this moment, I know we all have our own “stuff” to deal with. “Stuff” that is panic inducing and keeps us up at night. I have been tempted to put my blinders on, to just focus on my own family. But NOW is the time when our community needs us to show up. To dig deep. To move past the debates over how this problem could have been handled differently. To look the problem right in the eyes. And to collectively wrap our arms around the kids and families who need it the most.

 Join Us

You can support our community’s families and children by giving to the Children’s Opportunity Fund today. Click below to give, or contact Kate Daniel at kdaniel@thecommunityfoundation.org for assistance giving via check, stock gift, IRA charitable rollover, or a grant from a donor-advised fund.