Afterschool Care Shifts to Meet New Needs During COVID: Shalom Austin JCC Reintroduces Afterschool Program
By Wendy Goodman
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted adults and children alike in unprecedented ways. Parents of young children have had to swiftly and continually adjust their daily schedules to keep their families safe and their children engaged.
For the past year and a half, children’s time on-screen has increased while their opportunities for extracurricular activities and socialization have decreased. Parents have faced financial hardships, childcare challenges and even job losses.
Afterschool programs have had to shift and find ways to meet the changing needs of families.
In August 2020, Shalom Austin JCC started All Day at the J, a new full-day program for students in kindergarten through 8th grade to fill the education gap when schools moved to virtual learning. All Day at the J, which operated until June 2021, provided help with logging on to virtual classes, ensured children completed school assignments and projects and provided socially distant activities. This successful program gave parents the support they needed with childcare while helping children transition their learning online and socialize with friends, and make new ones.
As children return to school this fall, families continue to face challenges during the ongoing pandemic. Surges of COVID-19, including the highly contagious Delta variant, continue to plague schools and disrupt activities causing safety concerns and scheduling difficulties for families. While navigating these challenges, the need for consistency and reliability in education, extracurricular activities, physical activity, mental health and socialization remain priorities for parents. Once again, afterschool programs are uniquely positioned to fill these needs for families.
Based on findings from an Afterschool Alliance June 2021 survey of program providers, 89% of afterschool programs plan to reopen in the fall with 84% operating mostly or all in-person, and most reported being optimistic about the future.
Children enjoy listening to a story at All Day at the J, Shalom Austin JCC’s all-day program which operated until June 2021. Photo credit: Dave Hawks.
Although many are opening their doors, afterschool care is not completely back to normal.
A March 2021 Afterschool Alliance survey found that program providers are adjusting their offerings to provide the support that youth need most during a pandemic. The survey reported that 86% offer time to interact with peers; 85% help with homework; 82% have physical activity; 81% give opportunities to children to talk about their emotions; 77% have reading and writing time; 76% offer STEM learning opportunities; 75% give children access to technology; 53% have take home and virtual activities; 32% make home visits and/or check-in calls.
Shalom Austin is following suit. In August 2021, Shalom Austin is reintroduced their afterschool programming to address the changing needs of parents and children. Their new comprehensive program, After School at the J, offers a wide variety of childcare options for children in pre-k to 5th grade—all located on the 40-acre Dell Jewish Community Campus. The campus provides large indoor spaces, a gymnasium and outdoor fields. The Rochelle and Stanley Ferdman Family Aquatic Center and Hurt Family Tennis Center will open in fall 2021 providing even more outdoor activities for children.
(Above) All Day at the J. Photos credit: Dave Hawks. Shalom Austin JCC is reintrouding their afterschool programming to address the changing needs of parents and children.
Kids Connection is Shalom Austin JCC’s signature program of After School at the J. It provides recreational, social, cultural and educational activities in a supportive environment where children can develop friendships and build self-esteem. Kids Connection also has safe transportation from area schools to the Dell Jewish Community Campus, including escorts to all affiliated and unaffiliated activities on the campus. This fully licensed childcare program provides:
- Dedicated homework help
- Social emotional learning
- Prioritized health and safety including healthy snacks and high safety standards
- Judaic cultural enrichment (Shabbat, holidays, traditions)
- Community connectedness both locally and globally
- Screen-free environment
- Trained staff
At Kids Connection, children can participate in:
- Group games and activities
- Planned activities and free-play time
- Arts and crafts
- Outdoor play and gym time
In addition to Kids Connection, After School at the J offers youth sports programs, many through JCC’s partner organizations:
- Ballet Austin @ the J
- Kim’s Gym gymnastics
- Private Swim Lessons (available after the new aquatics center opens)
- Soccer Shots
For children interested in other activities, After School at the J offers these youth enrichment classes through JCC partners:
- Martial Arts
- Music Lessons
- Tae Kwon Do (for ECP students)
- Youth Theatre
More youth enrichment classes to be announced.
Youth and Teen Director Jessica Ochs, who oversees afterschool programming at Shalom Austin JCC, explains how After School at the J addresses the challenges expressed by parents. “In this time of crisis, it is important that we meet parents and children where they are and give them the support that they need. We listened, and that’s why we have redesigned our afterschool programming making it easier to sign up, extending our hours, and prioritizing children’s safety, physical activity and emotional and mental health.”
For more information about After School at the J, visit shalomaustin.org/afterschoolyouth.
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