Child Youth Programs: One year managing COVID-19

Training & Curriculum Specialist Kendra King, with NAS Patuxent River’s Rassieur Youth Center, poses with Charles and a thank you note he wrote as part of the Kind Minds Club Thank You Note Challenge, which involved youth writing thank you notes to local members of the community.

A little more than one year ago, on March 12, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic became “real” for the Child Youth Programs (CYP) at NAS Patuxent River when they were instructed to provide immediate training to all staff to prevent the spread of the disease. On March 26, they officially consolidated all programs and began operating at CYP Level 2.

“This meant we suspended care at all centers – CDC and Youth – for all patrons not designated as mission critical by their command,” explained Kendra King, training and curriculum specialist at the Rassieur Youth Center, which serves school age children ages 5-12 and teens ages 13-18. “Those families designated mission critical but not currently registered with CYP, had to register prior to scheduling or utilizing care.”

As a result, the number of staff and youth was minimized and all were consolidated into the larger Child Development Center. As frontline workers, staff members were voluntarily vaccinated. Additional health safety measures increased, including questioning families and staff regarding the health of those in their household, their traveling, or their potential exposure to the virus. Temperature readings were conducted on site and families were encouraged to self-screen at home to provide a safe environment to support the mission. Staff members transitioned into a Blue/Gold schedule in which they worked two weeks in program and were on recall for the next two weeks. Staff were sanitizing, wiping and cleaning everything every hour.

“Our child to staff ratios decreased and our practices within the classroom changed from socially vibrant learning full of sensory experiences and self-serve dining to encouraging our youth to socially distance themselves while still playing and attempting not to cross contaminate or share germs,” King said.

By August 2020, the youth reintegrated back in to the Rassieur Youth Center, and to facilitate safer virtual learning through their schools, the center created and maintained separate “bubbles” through four classrooms.

“Many of our youth bring laptops issued from the schools, their own headphones, and participate in their virtual learning,” King noted. “Team members at the youth center are working hard to remind each youth of their individualized school meeting times as well as school schedule changes, as soon as the parents share those changes with us. While we’re not a replacement for our youth’s teachers, we foster an environment that encourages youth to attend their virtual learning. We are able to provide youth with the resources and choice to login to class and be successful.”

In addition to their school requirements, team members also plan intentional learning experiences based on curriculum from the Boys and Girls Club of America, 4H, and the youths’ in-care developmental abilities.

“As a before- and after-school program, our goal is to enrich the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive functions of each of our youth through intentional interactions,” King added. “Team members are juggling school, our programming, multiple meal times, and all the COVID-19 safety precautions to help each youth be the best they can be.”

Currently, the Youth and CDC programs are operating at about 50% capacity, still maintaining social distancing procedures and mitigating the spread of COVID-19 through smaller classroom sizes. School age youth and staff are all required to wear face coverings while in the building, and team members regularly communicate with all CYP families via emails and quarterly Parent Involvement Board virtual meetings, the next of which is scheduled for May 20, from 4:40-5:30 p.m., via Teams.

Asked if they’ve learned anything from having to deal with the pandemic, King mention the importance of checking in on team members and parents, promoting self-care and the appreciation of the procedures that keep everyone safe, and how this has affected the youth.

“We recognize how difficult this has been on our families, service members, our team, but most importantly our youth,” King said. “Youth missing birthdays, school events, and milestones is hard.”

The youth center’s plans moving forward include continuing to support the mission while providing high quality learning experiences for all the youth in their care.

“There is also virtual programming with an array of opportunities for families at home that can be completed on screen or away from screen,” King noted. “Reach out to the functional inbox for more information at YC1.NASPAXR.fct@navy.mil.

For families PCSing to other duty stations or PCSing to Pax River, King noted that NAS Patuxent River School Liaison Officer Dawn Simpson is an excellent resource. Reach out to her at dawn.simpson@navy.mil, or (301) 995-4004.

“Supporting the mission through COVID-19 has really been a team approach,” King said, “and I hope when we open up we can continue to partner with families, schools, and each other to keep everyone safe and healthy.”