Child care challenges: Where Roanoke Valley parents can turn for help

Science museum, YMCA, United Way all working to provide options

ROANOKE, Va. – In the mad rush to find child care this fall, the Science Museum of Western Virginia is offering one alternative.

The museum is launching The LAB, an in-person, educational program that will supplement children’s virtual learning when they’re not in school.

“[The LAB] will ensure that students stay on track academically with their assigned virtual work at school,” said Director of Philanthropy Mary Roberts Baako. “If they are going to be in school on Monday and Tuesday, you know, they might come to us Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.”

The museum is offering socially-distant, in-person instruction for only about 50 students, grades K-5. Each ‘cohort’ or class will have about 10-15 students that will not interact with other students or teachers. Everyone will have to wear face coverings.

Trained educators will help students with homework and teach other curriculum.

“Organic farming, robotics, biology, mini med schools,” said Roberts Baako. “In addition to that, more holistic experiences. So some in music, art, sculpture, yoga, mindfulness.”

The museum will be closed to the public during the week and is also looking at adding 6th and 7th graders at some point in the future.

YMCA of Virginia’s Blue Ridge is also trying to meet families’ needs. President Mark Johnson said his team is working with school districts in Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Salem, Botetourt, and Lexington to see when the YMCA locations will need to provide after school, half-day, or full-day options.

In a typical school year, the YMCA of Virginia’s Blue Ridge serves about 500 to 600 kids a day. Johnson’s goal is to serve half and hire about 30-40% more staff members.

“We’re kind of learning as we go and doing the best we can to make sure we provide as much coverage as we can for families in the valley,” said Johnson.

There is still a lot up in the air for the childcare centers: from staffing, to space, to hours and availability. One community partner, United Way of Roanoke Valley, is working to put all the puzzle pieces together.

“Not a single program, not a single agency will be able to help all that needs to be served,” said United Way of Roanoke Valley’s CEO Abby Hamilton.

The nonprofit works with about 150 daycare centers in the area. The centers are looking at extended hours, adding more age groups, and using new spaces like churches to meet the need.

“I think that this program provides families an option that is safe,” said Baako,”But also the option of, ‘I don’t have to sacrifice my child’s education or my career.‘”

Registration for The LAB is full so there is a waiting list. In the meantime, staff are working to find more space in the museum to add more students to the program. To get on the waitlist, click here.

To learn more about the YMCA’s childcare options, contact the organization here.

United Way also offers a portal to connect families with childcare options.

About the Author:

You can watch Lindsey during Virginia Today every weekend or as a reporter during the week!