A YMCA staff member assists students working on laptops. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Working parents are once again facing educational challenges as the start of the school year draws near, with many school districts beginning the new semester online amid the ongoing pandemic. In response, the YMCA of Greater Long Beach created a program to alleviate the stress of hundreds of parents.


Dubbed the Y Camp Academy, the new in-person program is focused on providing students with distance learning support in a safe environment. The goal is to balance required screen time with other enrichment activities such as physical education, arts and crafts, STEM programs and more.


“Without a partner who could pitch in … and being an essential worker, this [school year] would have been extremely difficult without the Y,” said Margaret Roper, an attorney and single mother with a daughter starting the second grade.


When Long Beach Unified School District announced it would begin the 2020-21 school year online, Roper said she was disappointed. But the YMCA’s latest program is a “valuable community service” that has come during a time when it’s “extremely difficult to find other viable options,” she said.


The YMCA collaborated with Long Beach, ABC, Bellflower and Paramount unified school districts to train staff to assist elementary and middle school students with signing into distance learning classes and online assignments. YMCA staff will assist students throughout the school day—8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.—including homework help. To accommodate all parents, the YMCA offers early drop off and late pick up, with child care available from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Two kids play basketball wearing masks during YMCA daycare. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

“Childcare is so critical to our community rebounding from this pandemic and, at this point, all work is essential,” said YMCA of Greater Long Beach COO Brandi Collato. “We’re not teachers. We’re not replacing schools by any means but we will support what they put in place.”


The new program is set to follow the same safety guidelines as the YMCA’s current daycare offerings. Whereas LBUSD has a more than 30-to-one student-teacher ratio in most classrooms, according to the Teachers Association of Long Beach website, the YMCA program keeps the ratio to no more than 10-to-one. Additionally, each small group remains separate from the others, masks are required to be worn by students and staff, and areas are cleaned regularly.


“When school resumes in full or as a hybrid, the Y is prepared to adjust,” Collato said, adding that staff training is ongoing as safety guidelines are updated.


Kelly Reynolds and her husband Matthew work for the Port of Long Beach—her as an executive assistant and him as a construction inspector—and have two students enrolled in LBUSD this year: Harlequin is going into the first grade, while her sister Finley is entering kindergarten.


Fortunately for the Reynolds family, Kelly has been able to mostly work from home since the onset of COVID-19 five months ago. However, having two young girls at home was not conducive to work productivity. She said she barely made it through the end of last school year.


“It’s absolutely bananas. I need quiet time to be able to do a teleconference and they are just wreaking havoc,” Kelly said, adding that over the summer she has utilized the Y’s childcare program for the first time. “In the beginning, I would only do things by phone, no screen, because no one could see the chaos in the background.”

A masked YMCA staff member oversees arts and crafts. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Combined, the six Greater Long Beach area YMCA branches have a capacity of about 500 students, with 10-15 staff per site. During a normal school year, Collato said the organization also would operate on 26 school campuses; however, the organization has yet to gain approval to operate at those sites. If approved, Collato said enrollment would be expanded to hundreds of additional students.


“The social and emotional development of children is just as important as the academic components,” Collato said. “Our program balances other activities that are important in a child’s development that isn’t just in front of a screen.”


At full price, the Y Camp Academy costs about $250 per week. But like other Y programs, Collato said cost will not keep anyone in need from utilizing the academy. She explained that there are several financial assistance programs that can cover most, if not all, costs.


“We’re committed to not turning anyone away because of an inability to pay,” she said. “For working parents, it’s absolutely critical they not only have a place where their kids can go but a place they know is safe.”


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Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.