Wolfeboro Selectwoman Linda Murray knew her own family was facing a childcare crisis with the coming school year. Her 8-year-old grandson was entering the second grade at Carpenter Elementary School, but would only be in school two days a week.
The Governor Wentworth Regional School District, which serves the communities of Brookfield, Effingham, New Durham, Ossipee, Tuftonboro and Wolfeboro, is holding in-person classes Mondays and Tuesdays for half of its student body. The other half receive in-person instruction on Thursdays and Fridays. The weekdays the students are not in school they are expected to attend remote learning classes. On Wednesdays all students are being taught remotely.
Murray said her daughter is a teacher in the school district and is expected to be teaching from the school for in-person and remote classes five days a week. “She’s back in class, even though the kids only go twice a week, she goes all five days,” Murray said.
Her son-in-law works as a contractor and a carpenter. So while he has more flexibility to stay at home with the 8-year-old, he still needs to work at least three days a week, Murray said.
The family had more flexibility during the height of the pandemic because their high school age and college age sons were at home and could pitch in when supervision or help with remote learning were needed. Now both sons are in school full time.
Knowing what her family was facing, Murray said she knows other families must be facing similar dilemmas.
“We know that for most families, not working three days out of the week, puts them into financial trouble,” she said.
Murray has a background working on childcare solutions as a former board member of the Wolfeboro Area Children’s Center, so she reached out to the childcare center and other community partners to see what solutions there are for parents who need to return to work while their children are remote learning three days out of the work week.
“I started this working group to see if we could provide childcare for school age children during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Murray said. “The group is trying to find childcare for school age children during Governor Wentworth Regional School District’s hybrid school system.”
Upon meeting, Murray said she learned Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro had reached out to a nearby summer camp and retreat center in Tuftonboro, Camp Sentinel for help with their employees.
The group immediately reached out to Laura Stauss, Vice President of Human Resources atHuggins Hospital, who joined the community working group on childcare and shared her solution.
Stauss said the hospital’s workforce was hit hard initially at the onset of the pandemic and stay at home order.
So many staff members at a hospital don’t have the option of working remotely, she said, including doctors and nurses and other staff.
“There were some people that just had to take a leave,” Stauss said. “So this summer we decided we needed to be proactive.”
The hospital already had a close relationship with the area summer camps because they provide medical care for them when needed. So they started reaching out and exploring how the camps could serve as a remote learning/children care centers for hospitals employees’ children
In order to free up their staff to come to work, Huggins is paying 100 percent of the cost for the programs being held at the camps, she said. “It’s such a big thing for working parents right now,” Stauss said of the child care dilemma.
Camp Sentinel in Tuftonboro started up Sept. 14. The hospital is also working with Camp Brookwoods in Alton and Camp Cody in Freedom if childcare is needed by employees in those areas.
“We’re working with three camps, but Camp Sentinel is the one that is up and working,” Stauss said.
Kevin Van Brunt, President/CEO of Camp Sentinel, said the program runs 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and is working with Huggins Hospital, Brewster Academy, the community working group as well as anyone who calls the camp and asks for help.
“When the community calls Camp Sentinel answers,” Van Brunt said. “Within 24 hours we had 15 kids registered.”
Brewster Academy, a private boarding school in Wolfeboro, is paying 60 percent of the costs for the program for their employees that need it since most of their staff cannot work remotely either.
“There are some teachers at Brewster that are in the same boat,” he said.
The program costs $50 a day or $200 a week. Murray said the community group is working to secure grant or state or federal funds to subsidize those who can’t afford the program. Van Brunt said no one will be turned away for inability to pay.
“We’re mission first, so we’re never going to turn a child away if they need us,” he said.
Van Brunt said the Camp Sentinel website also has a sponsorship option for community members who want to donate to the Sentinel Student Care Program.
According to the website, “The program is available for students in grades K-12. The purpose is to provide a safe environment where students may continue their remote education with adult supervision and support. Students will have access to the internet, and a quiet space to complete their remote learning, and staff will be available to help assist where needed.”
“Right now we have 23 kids enrolled,” Van Brunt said. “We can go up to 60 kids.”
The students need internet access and a quiet place to work, which the camp can provide. There are also staff members who are staying over from the summer season and even community volunteers such as Marge Mansfield, a retired teacher who lives in Wolfeboro.
“She helps with day camp and teaches sailing at the camp. She is a wonderful volunteer for us,” he said of Mansfield. “She called when she got wind of it and asked ‘Can I come on Mondays and Wednesdays and teach?’”
Since the program was also starting the first week of school for the school district, the remote learning children didn’t have any school work yet, Van Brunt said, so they took the students on adventure hikes and gave lessons on nature using the camp’s 600 plus acres.
Van Brunt said they hope to take advantage of the warm weather this fall as much as pos
sible, adding many of the children acted like they have been cooped up for too long when they first arrived at camp.
“I noticed when the kids first arrived, they came in and they just had this look on their faces like they had been shelled-shocked,” he said. “And then they run around the 600 acres and they are kids again.”
This week, Murray said her grandson is enjoying the program. “He's very happy. He only goes on Wednesdays, but he is very pleased with the program,” she said, adding that while he has brothers, ages 16 and 20, he is very happy to be able to run around with a bunch of other children his age.
Murray said the students do their remote classes in the morning, have a mid-morning snack, more work, then lunch, if there is no work or classes after lunch they do activities, she said
Murray said she is working to get fliers out to the community this week so that people in need know about the program. Camp Sentinel has more space for students and there are other area summer camps ready to start up if needed, she said.
School only started Sept. 14, so some families may find in the next week or two they can’t continue to juggle remote learning and work without some help. The need is unknown right now, she said, grandparents or other neighborhood/community groups may be picking up the slack.
“It’s still very new to all of us,” Murray said. “We’re still in a ‘is it going to work’ mode.”
Pictured above Marge Mansfield, a retired teacher who lives in Wolfeboro, teaches children during Camp Sentinel’s Sentinel Student Care Program last week.
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