The Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood created School Days at The J to support families in need of assistance while their children are engaged in virtual learning.

“Our staff are there every step of the way, they communicate with teachers, they communicate with the parents on a daily basis, they make sure that the kids are staying on task, that they’re focused, that assignments are being turned in, they’re also there for emotional support,” Abbey Phillips, director of day camps and youth services, told the Cleveland Jewish News on Oct. 22. “Then when the students aren’t doing schoolwork or they’re not required to be in a Zoom session, (our staff is) planning activities based on their interests.”

The program started Sept. 8, and although children grades kindergarten through six are being cared for from 7:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. weekdays, Phillips wants to stay away from the term “daycare” when referring to School Days at The J.

Noting there is a 1-to-6 student-to-staff member ratio in the program, Phillips said the staff in charge of participants was nicknamed pod leaders. No more than eight children are in each pod and separated by age.

Phillips said pod leaders have become members of their charges’ families.

“They’re making sure that these kids feel like they are in an emotionally safe place and they’re helping the families with prioritizing what can be done here, what can be done at home,” Phillips said. “It’s a challenging time for all of these families and, I mean, for everybody. So we want to make sure that their well being is taken care of before anything else, and then on the way, we make sure that they’re doing what they need to do, taking care of schoolwork and having a good time while they’re doing it.”

Pod leaders try to spend as much time as possible outdoors with the children, distribute two snacks daily and provide water bottles and individual supplies.

“So every child has their own colored pencils, markers and paper play dough, the whole shebang,” Phillips said.

Children have their temperature and symptoms checked each day upon arrival and there is a policy in place asking parents to keep their kids at home or visit a doctor if they have experienced anything from sniffles and a sore throat to a headache.

The same goes for staff members.

“We’ve gotten great feedback from our families that they’ve noticed a change in their child’s overall attitudes since they started attending this program,” Phillips said. “It definitely provides a sense of consistency and normalcy and it helps to take off some of the pressure from the parent, knowing that they have someone else on their team that wants the best for their child.”

Phillips said the program will continue for as long as there is a need.

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