Virtual PLUS+ Partner: Alexandria's Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities
Critical to keeping the home lives of many of our students stable and healthy during the pandemic, is the availability of free, quality child care.
With the help of our Virtual PLUS+ community partners, ACPS has been able to offer this opportunity to our children who could suffer the greatest hardship while in-person learning is not feasible.
Last week, we visited one of the Virtual PLUS+ School Day & Afterschool Programs run in conjunction with the City of Alexandria’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities.
At William Ramsay Recreation Center, fifth grader Anh Nguyen is on a break from her Talented and Gifted class.
She sits back in her chair and stretches away from her Chromebook for a few moments before saying thoughtfully, “I was sad when school closed. I missed my friends, having other children to play with — and I actually missed the homework.”
Now, Monday to Friday, Anh, an English Learner (EL) student at William Ramsay Elementary School, arrives happy, enthusiastic and eager to begin her day in an environment as close to normal as it is possible to get right now.
For her family, having a quiet place for her to participate in Virtual PLUS+, the opportunity to take part in fun, physical activities and have her nutritional needs met, means they can focus on work and other responsibilities, confident that she is well cared for.
“I like coming here because after online school we get active and get some fresh air. We get everything we need here,” Anh added.
The ten year-old is one of 250 students enrolled in free full-day Virtual PLUS+ programs offered at various community and recreation centers city-wide to provide K-5 child care for our essential worker families and for those students deemed most vulnerable.
In addition to the students attending a full-day program, another 250 students attend one of several afterschool programs funded by ACPS 21st Century Community Learning Center (21 CCLC) grants. ACPS LINK Club afterschool programs take place in collaboration with community partners serving students where they live. After a day of virtual schooling at home, students are able to walk to their local community center to participate in a variety of enrichment activities, receive tutoring support and safely socialize with their peers while social distancing.
The Virtual PLUS+ School Day & Afterschool Program is federally funded from ACPS' Title I and Title IV 21st CCLC funds in combination with an additional contribution from the City of Alexandria.
Enrolled students attend one of our Title 1 schools: John Adams Elementary School, Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School, Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology, James K. Polk Elementary School, Patrick Henry School, Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School, Patrick Henry School or William Ramsay Elementary School.
In addition, applications were assessed using a rubric that took into consideration a variety of factors including the risk that the student would fall behind academically, the parents’ need to work outside the home and socio economic factors.
The program has been running at William Ramsay Recreation Center, Leonard Armstrong Recreation Center, Boys and Girls Club or YMCA at Samuel Tucker Elementary School since Sept. 14.
This week, we were able to add additional sites to meet demand at Patrick Henry Recreation Center and James K. Polk Elementary School.
During the school day at the William Ramsay Recreation Center, sixty students, grouped into grade groups of roughly ten, are spaced out across the airy facility. Each has their own spacious desk area, masks are worn, temperatures are checked at least twice daily, and hand sanitizer and hand-washing has become second nature to everyone.
The gym is available to students during breaks and for Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School fourth grader Muqaddium Malik jr, who goes by Malik, that means indulging in his favorite sport of basketball.
“I like coming here because it’s a place where I can burn off some of my energy. I like to play basketball. Sometimes it’s hard to be stuck at home.”
Although staff are not teachers, they are always nearby to troubleshoot tech issues, help keep students focusing on classes that they are attending via Zoom with their school teacher and assist in any other ways they can.
In one room of third and fourth graders, a staff member helped one boy participating in PE class, guiding him as he attempted to kick up a tennis ball from between his heels.
In another, an extra pencil is being fetched from a cupboard full of supplies.
“The teachers are doing the teaching and we are here to assist, a little like a paraprofessional,” said Shawn Brown, the Rec Center director who oversees the day to day operations.
“It’s working out really well and we are very happy to be able to help in any way we can to support Alexandria families.
“The families are very appreciative, they are thankful there is a place for their kids to come and be supervised. Some were really struggling to get back to work and worried for their jobs.”
After the school day is over, for Anh and Malik and all the other students, it’s all about getting active and having fun away from screens.
Thanks to additional funding from Running Brooke, students can participate in a variety of recreational enrichment clubs including soccer through the Alexandria Soccer Association, parkour (below) through PK Move and creative movement through Local Motion Project.
Shanna Samson, ACPS Office of Community Partnerships and Engagement assistant director, worked hand in hand with the City to set up the program.
She said, “We are pleased that we have been able to offer our most vulnerable families this opportunity which we hope will take away some of the pressure that we know some are facing during the pandemic.
“We are grateful for the close working relationship we have with the City of Alexandria and our other Virtual PLUS+ community partners, and for the support they are offering our students.”
Find more information about the program here.
Read about the Alexandria Soccer Association’s child care partnership with ACPS here.Child Care and School Day/After-school Support Options for Families