A Vermont woman is using social media to help working parents and guardians across the state connect with college students to meet their child care needs when Vermont K-12 schools reopen on Sept. 8.
Lorin Gides, of Rutland, launched the Facebook group “Help Vermont Parents Work — Childcare During COVID” — last week as a platform for locating nontraditional child care solutions that might better fit families whose school and work schedules have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
Gides, a special needs coordinator at Stafford Technical Center and a mother of two college-age children, said she is familiar with the challenge of juggling work and child care and wanted to help. (Gides noted the group is personal project and not affiliated with her work at STC.)
“I saw a lot of my friends struggling with young children — with what they are going to do in the fall” she said.
Gides said she drew inspiration from another Facebook group, which was doing something similar but on a national scale. She began thinking about how the idea could translate to Vermont where school districts across the state have adapted in order to meet safe social-distancing guidelines mandated by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What those schedules may look like varies from district to district and sometimes from school to school. Some are sticking to remote instruction or offering the option. Others are choosing to return to in-person classes for some or the entire week. Still others are adopting a hybrid remote/in-person model.
All these plans present challenges to working parents and guardians — especially those with younger children who are not independent learners and cannot safely be left at home alone.
In the group, parents and guardians in need of childcare can post requests on threads organized by county. Likewise, college students looking for child care or tutoring work can post their availability and interest.
“The success of the group really depends on the members and the interaction of people,” Gides said.
She noted her own daughter, who is currently home from college, has expressed interest in connecting with a family or two.
“I am seeing a lot of young adults joining the page,” Gides said.
Adrienne Brewer is one such student. Brewer, 21, is a senior at Castleton University studying education.
“I’ve had at least ... four families already reach out to me,” she said.
In addition to basic child care, Brewer said the families she has talked to are asking for help with schoolwork — a service she is happy to provide.
“Since I’m an education major, I don’t really have many opportunities to go into a classroom because of COVID,” she said. “I can get the extra experience helping kids with their schoolwork.”
Brewer said she sympathizes with families looking for assistance.
“I just want to help parents out because I know it’s really stressful for them, too, and they need to keep their jobs so they can support their families,” she said.
Rutland resident Karinda Oleson is in the market for child care. The mother of two sons, ages five and nine, lost her job due to the pandemic and is now looking for work.
“… I know if I get offered a position I’m going to need some sort of care in between the time of me going back and school starting — if it starts,” she said.
Oleson said a traditional day care provider was a nonstarter because it’s too expensive and there are so few options.
“I’m not working so the money is a little tighter than usual,” she said.
Oleson said she hopes she is able to find a more affordable option through the group.
She said she is also open to the idea of finding someone like Brewer who could help with schoolwork.
“I don’t know what that next step is for me — what type of job it will be and how consuming,” Oleson said. “Somebody that can help do homework and stuff like that is certainly more valuable than somebody that’s just willing to come watch them.”
That increased need for academic assistance has not gone unnoticed by Hurley Cavacas, another Rutlander who’s using Facebook to provide a platform to parents and guardians still adjusting to the challenge of remote learning.
On Monday, Cavacas launched the Facebook page “CEC Comprehensive Education Coaching.” He said page will be a place where parents can “bounce ideas” off someone “if they’re stuck teaching their child certain things.”
Cavacas, a semi-retired educator and commissioner on the Rutland City Public School Board, said questions could range from help on a particularly tricky math problem to a deeper explanation of a historical event.
To aid him, Cavacas has been recruiting retired educators to offer virtual help on the page free of charge. He’s also exploring the possibility of offering free in-person tutoring.
“Students should not be penalized because of what’s happening in the world,” Cavacas said. “These students should be able to have the same quality of education — and I’m not saying that the districts are not doing it because the districts are doing it — but sometimes, it’s hard to be able to get that additional support that’s needed.”
While both Gides and Cavacas’ efforts are nascent, they expect interest to grow as families begin to get a better sense of what their schedules will look like.
“I anticipate that the posts will increase as we get closer to the start of the school year,” Gides said.