Gov. Tony Evers recently ordered the state-wide closure of all K-12 public and private schools beginning March 17 due to the coronavirus pandemic. This left many working parents, such as healthcare workers, in search of childcare.
A nurse in the cardiology department at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, Sabrina Lengyel, said she has two children enrolled in school. Lengyel said she is fortunate enough to have extended family watch over her children while she is at work, however, she expressed concern over the impact of the school closings on her and her children’s schedules.
“I feel that we have a loss of structure at this moment,” Lengyel said. “I am concerned about them being home without any supervision.”
Lengyel said she is lucky to receive help from family and she can work from home. Lengyel is concerned for working parents who may not be able to work from home and do not have family available to help with childcare.
Another nurse at the medical center, Erica Sherwood, said she has four children enrolled in school. Sherwood said she has recently relied on the help of her retired parents for childcare. Before schools closed, Sherwood said she relied on before and after school programs and the school’s buses.
“My son is 9,” Sherwood said. “He is at that borderline age where he can’t really be left alone. He’s just been at my parents’ 24/7.”
Along with the pressure of finding childcare, parents are also trying to find ways to foster education at home. Lengyel said she is confident in her and her husband’s abilities to temporarily teach her children from home, but she wonders how the loss of social interaction will affect their learning. According to Lengyel, social interaction is a critical part of education.
Sherwood said her two teenagers always wanted to try online schooling. With no other option, Sherwood said they are having a difficult time adjusting. Establishing a routine and staying organized are just two of the obstacles the teens are facing, Sherwood said.
For younger children, parents are forced to take on an educational role. According to Sherwood, this means learning new ways to teach math in addition to her regular responsibilities as a nurse, mother and student herself.
“We have to make sure we get them everything they need,” Sherwood said. “Then, all of a sudden they’ll be thrown into a new grade next year. So, especially with math for elementary kids, we have to learn all these new ways of teaching to be able to teach it to the kids.”
Sherwood said there are not many options for daycare in her community. According to Sherwood, since her community is small, she is limited to the before and after school programs. Sherwood fears childcare centers are not the safest option given the current circumstances. Sherwood said even if daycares are good with sanitation, children are not very clean themselves.
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In an effort to provide some relief to working parents, community members are offering help. Marshfield Clinic Health System released a letter aimed at connecting health care workers with community members able to watch their children so they can remain available to work.
According to the press release, community members who provide background information along with availability, preferred age group and any relevant experience will be posted on an internal board. Volunteers’ contact information is made available for employees within the Marshfield Clinic Health System.
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Special education assistant at Emerson Elementary school in Madison, Grace Kosmatka, is one of the many community members who are stepping up to help working parents. Due to the closure of schools, Kosmatka said she has the free time to offer childcare services as well as educational services. According to Kosmatka, routines and clear expectations are crucial for success in special education.
Kosmatka said she usually creates adapted lessons for children in order to cater to their learning needs. Since schools closed, she is sending parents school work and tips to help teach their children at home. In doing this, Kosmatka said she feels as though she regained a sense of control during a time where many feel helpless.
“At this time, a lot is out of my control in my job which gives me so much anxiety,” Kosmatka said. “That is why I am focusing on what I can control by helping those in my community with childcare during these hard times.”