PHOENIX — If you're a parent and an essential worker, not being able to send your child back to school can be stressful.
If you have younger students who can't stay home alone, but know you also can't afford to stay home and help keep them engaged, you may feel out of options.
Michelle Lee is one of those parents.
"I see, day by day, her getting more withdrawn," Lee said. Her 12-year-old daughter will be entering seventh grade within the Mesa Public Schools district, who announced last week they'll be starting the school year remotely on August 4.
"But I have to go to work and I don’t have someone to watch her," added Lee.
Lee founded Dignity Kids, a non-profit organization that provides interactive learning programs to school districts throughout the United States.
She also runs Lee's ATA Martial Arts, with more than a dozen studios located across the Valley. The gym, like others, was forced to cancel in-person classes as the pandemic worsened in Arizona. Even though they continued to offer online sessions, Lee says the money was barely enough to keep the business going.
"We’re not using them but we do have to pay the bills," she said. "So, we had to come up with a re-purpose, something to utilize this space that we have not been able to use."
She decided this was an opportunity to use the space as an alternative to a classroom, for parents who, like her, can't stay home to help coach their kids through another few months of distance learning.
"I think the educational experience is critical," said Lee. "It’s to feel normal again, to make them feel like life is going to get back to normal and to give them hope."
The "Edu-Camp" would offer parents and students a safe space to send their kids during school hours. With between 4,000 to 6,000 square feet of open space at every location, Lee says they can keep students about 10 feet away from each other, and keep classes to a maximum of 20 students, eliminating some crowds, and other social distancing concerns surrounding re-opening schools.
"[Students], they're resilient, but it’s a very scary time for them," she added. "We’re just trying to make a very small group where they can get together and feel safe.”
Lee says she's already devised a plan on how to do this as safely as possible, implementing serious safety protocols including:
- Capping class sizes
- Keeping student desks 10 feet away
- Creating enclosed workspaces with cubbies used to surround students, preventing the spread of germs
- Temperature checks three times a day
- Consistent sanitizing
- Students and counselors required to sign waivers, confirming they are not feeling any symptoms nor have they been in close contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19
Students will still be using the same distance learning course provided by their individual schools and districts, and required to bring their own laptops, either provided by schools or their families, to complete classwork. The benefit of the program is counselors on staff can keep an eye on students.
"All our staff is doing is being a support for the student and the teacher and the student experience that are already going to be having when school starts.”
The camp also includes time set aside for Physical Education, where students can participate in yoga or no-contact Martial Arts.
Open enrollment for the program started July 21. The program aims to start in late August, with costs between $35 to $45 a day.
Lee says, right now, the program caters to students between K-6th grade but can accept students up to 8th grade.