BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — There will soon be help for working parents and families who cannot be home to help their kids with remote learning.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the county will invest $14 million in grant funding from the U.S. CARES Act to establish Virtual Learning Support Centers (VLSC) in all 28 school districts in the county.
“We’re going anywhere from Tonawanda to Hamburg — Alden to essentially into the Cheektowagas,” explained Elizabeth Freas, assistant superintendent, Erie 1 BOCES.
Erie 1 BOCES will be awarded grant dollars to work on behalf of 16-suburban school districts to set up the centers to help students so they are not alone for remote learning.
The school districts also include Lancaster, Williamsville, Sweet Home, Kenmore-Tonawanda, West Seneca, Maryvale, Grand Island, Amherst, Cleveland Hill, Depew, Clarence, Cheektowaga and Akron.
Freas said they are working with providers so districts can establish centers, but will be following all the CDC and department of health guidelines to create a safe environment for children.
“We’ll be working through those processes with the providers to ensure that they’re providing students with the same level of safety and support that they would be in a traditional school setting,” Freas said.
Erie 2 BOCES will be establishing the VLSC in the nine south town school districts that include East Aurora, Eden, Holland, Gowanda, Iroquois, Lake Shore, North Collins, Orchard Park, and Springville-Griffith Institute.
In the city, Say Yes Buffalo is working to set up 45 centers for students working remotely.
“Parents are making that hard choice between job for their children and the need to have their kid at home, so it's meant to alleviate that,” remarked David Rust, executive director, Say Yes Buffalo.
Rust says Buffalo school parents are grappling with having to go to work and leaving kids home alone.
“This community is in crisis in some ways and it's meant to provide the need the parents have give their kids the social and economic bridge for their children socially for them economically to go work,” Rust noted.
Say Yes is working with licensed service providers to help establish locations that will provide a safe learning environment for students.
“Comprised of churches, members of the after school network and also day care providers and they’ll provide enriching spaces for students to complete their school work virtually,” Rust said.
The VLSC will be available for students ages 5 through 12.
“But I often worry about students who perhaps are home alone,” stated Lisa Chimera, Erie County legislator, Ken-Ton School teacher.
Chimera is a sixth grade school teacher at Hoover Middle School. Students in the Ken-Ton District are learning remotely right now.
Chimera she's heard from many parents who need help.
“I have spoken with parents of students who were being forced to make decisions — can I continue to work or do I need to stay home and provide support for my children. Parents shouldn't be forced to have to make that choice — especially during this time,” Chimera replied.
Erie 1 BOCES says it will target October 1st as a possible opening date for the VLSC. Say Yes Buffalo said it is expected to open the centers October 5th.
The county said an additional $4 million in the grand funding will be used “to directly support childcare providers while additional funding will be used to replenish and expand the childcare subsidy to include families earning up to 85% of the NYS median income, bringing the total investment in childcare and education to nearly $25 million.”
"This investment in children, education, and childcare is unprecedented in our county's history and underscores the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the lives of children. School districts, child care providers, and children's caregivers countywide are all under pressure as they navigate the best ways to care for and educate our children in this new reality," said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. "This grant funding is a direct help to schools and childcare providers and is an investment in our children's future. I commend all involved in creating these Virtual learning Support Centers from scratch, an effort that will positively impact thousands of children countywide."