While child care organizations have worked to rapidly expand services, organizations focused on after-school and supplemental education have adapted their programs to the Bozeman School District’s schedule.
Many parents have been faced with the struggle of finding child care for the three days a week students are not in class. Education nonprofits, like those focused on outdoor science and second languages, have broadened their offerings to align with the blended model of learning in the school district.
“Our worlds are kind of shrunk down more than usual,” said Hannah Jacobsma, program coordinator with the World Language Initiative – Montana. “To have this opportunity to connect with a different group of kids or an adult that has experience in a different culture, it’s exciting and they might not have it otherwise right now.”
World Languages Initiative typically has 450 kids per year in its after-school program with 25 coaches teaching in five or more languages, according to Elizabeth Williamson, executive director of the organization.
With after-school programs on hold in the Bozeman School District, the nonprofit pivoted this year, focusing instead on providing small group study halls for kindergarten through fifth grade. There are five groups of no more than six students to ensure proper social distancing.
“Parents can sign up their children for the days they’re not in school to help complete online school work and have cultural activities and a second language component,” Williamson said.
In October, the organization plans to begin offering after-school online language and culture classes for all age groups. The courses will be twice a week, 45 minutes online with 12 to 15 students interacting with each other and a language coach.
“There’s a silo effect that’s happening,” Williamson said. “The ability to interact with people who are from a different culture is really exciting for them, it builds empathy.”
Montana Outdoor Science School, or MOSS, has also adapted its program offerings to align with the Bozeman School District’s blended schedule.
“Working in conjunction with the school district, we knew we could pivot really quickly with what we were usually offering,” said Jess Haas, executive director of MOSS.
She said the most popular offerings has been the full afternoon science program, covering different topics through weekly activities.
Typically, MOSS teaches in-school programming, and while they have had to adjust, Haas said school and teachers can still contact them for science programming in the schoolyard or in a nearby park.
Haas said their outdoor programs are capped at 15 and students stay with the same group of students each month, with two teachers per group.
“It’s a smaller group size than we normally run in the fall,” she said. “We’re making sure proper safety protocols are in place.”
Haas said outdoor education is more essential than ever, with kids spending more time learning virtually than ever before.
“When topics lend themselves to being outside, we want to be able to offer it to students, to balance out their screen time,” she said.
MOSS also offers a virtual science club with at-home science kits to complete outdoor activities.
“Because they’re not doing in-person classes, they often don’t have that social and emotional learning,” she said. “Being able to learn those skills of compassion and empathy and self-responsibility in the outdoors is a really efficient way to do that.”
Recognizing that not every family has the financial resources to enroll their children in educational programs, many organizations offer partial or full scholarships to those in need.
Haas said MOSS was able to provide scholarships to students who needed them, and received referrals from direct-service organizations that knew of kids who could benefit from the outdoor program.
Jacobsma said First Security Bank provided a grant of $500 for students who want to participate but can’t afford the cost of the program.
The organization also applied for a coronavirus relief grant for child care. If it receives the money, it would allow the nonprofit to drop the price for all families, Williamson said.
“We can grow to a 25% scholarship rate if we get the grant,” she said. “We discuss ability to pay (with parents) and will adjust the cost of the class for that.”
She said the goal is for all kids to have access to a second language education. While it’s easier to accomplish by installing classes in the schools, they hope the scholarships will help until after-school programs can return to the school district.
Both programs said they understand the importance of being flexible to the needs of parents and families. With uncertainty over how long the district will remain in a blended model, MLI and MOSS offer month-to-month programs or having flexible refund policies.
Haas said MOSS is also planning to “lean into the resilience of the Gallatin Valley” and offer winter outdoors programming too.
“What we’ve realized is you just have to make a plan and be okay to flex out of it,” she said.