As school district leaders ponder various reopening scenarios, it’s becoming clearer each day that students in San Antonio won’t be following a typical school schedule. Whether it means classes every other week, every other day, or half days, students’ school schedules won’t match parents’ work schedules.
Many low-income parents had to find temporary solutions for their children while they continued to work when schools first shut down. Facing another untraditional school year creates another monumental challenge for parents who don’t have the luxury of working from home. We must step up and provide out of school care and programs for families who don’t have that luxury.
A Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas survey revealed that while 47 percent of white Texans could work from home, only 33 percent of African Americans and 23 percent Hispanics in Texas have occupations with the same ability. While the option to work from home has exponentially increased for many San Antonians, it is unlikely that low-income workers who lack a college degree have experienced an increase in telework opportunities.
Thousands of hard-working families will be faced with choosing whether to leave young children at home to provide income for their family or to opt out of work to care for their children. Let’s be clear, this isn’t a choice of whether a parent opts for virtual school versus classroom learning, it is a choice about survival. For families already struggling to make ends meet, not being able to work can lead to food insecurity, eviction, and possible homelessness. Choosing between the safety of your child and providing for your family is a choice no parent should have to make.
One mother I know through the Boys & Girls Club has been working from home but expects to be called back to the office any day now. If her children are not in school every day, she worries she won’t have options for child care while she’s at work. Another mother, who works in health care and is a single parent to four children who attend Boys & Girls Club programs, says adding child care to an already stretched budget is not an option. For other parents, asking employers for accommodations could make them feel like they’re putting their already precarious employment status at further risk.
The San Antonio metro area has the highest poverty rate, compared to other large metro areas across the country, with nearly 70,000 children living in poverty. It’s no secret that children from low-income backgrounds start school already behind their wealthier peers. With students falling further behind amid school shutdowns, it is imperative that reopening plans take into account how to make up for time lost and prevent students from falling even further behind. Add to this disparities in internet access, and the need for child care options that include access to technological resources and academic support is even more apparent.
Research has proven that when kids are in a safe place with caring adults during the out-of-school-time hours they are much less likely to be victimized; experience less fear, stress, and loneliness; perform better academically; attend school more regularly; and are less likely to experiment with risky behaviors. As a community, isn’t this what we want for all of our children?
After-school programs act as a safety net for so many children and should be expanded to fit the needs of families facing challenging schedules in the fall. This can be done by expanding programming hours to meet new needs. Both the public and private sector need to recognize that our most vulnerable children are going to fall further behind and be in unsafe environments and accordingly, fund organizations who can step up to fill the gap.
Families depend on organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs of San Antonio and other out of school time programs to care for their children and provide impactful programs during the out of school time hours. The community must step up to make sure that out of school time organizations can expand their hours, while following strict safety guidelines from the CDC. Out of school time providers are a key element to ensure the academic success and safety of our most vulnerable children during this crisis.
Several years ago, out of school time organizations in San Antonio united in an effort to advocate and elevate for their important work through Excel Beyond the Bell. With 43 member organizations, there is a place for everyone to plug in to help.
No doubt, reopening schools during a pandemic with no available vaccine in sight is a Herculean task. I do not envy our leaders in education as they plan and execute this mammoth undertaking. But, as they are working hard to make the best decisions possible, we as a city must also consider what else needs to shift. We should start with ensuring that families have access to quality child care and after-school programs that allow parents to continue working to support their families.