Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

“Community Classroom” aims to help working parents as virtual school year nears

State Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin) announced Monday morning a “Community Classroom” program to address issues created by online learning.

Working parents in Harrisburg now have an option for their school-aged children who otherwise might be home alone.

State Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin) announced the “Community Classroom” program at a press conference this morning. The program seeks to address a concern many parents had when the Harrisburg School District announced that it was starting all students online this year.

“The set up will not work for everyone,” Kim said. “We are talking about parents with young students who don’t have the option to telework.”

The “Community Classroom” program, through partnering with local organizations, will create learning environments for students from 8 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.

The Journey Church on S. 29th St., Whitaker Center downtown and the Major H. Winfield Funeral Home in Steelton have partnered with Kim to open their buildings for use as classrooms.

“We are living in really unique times, and we can all make decisions on what we do,” Journey Church Pastor Kris Sledge said. “How will we help our city? I’m tired of our building sitting vacant for the last couple of months.”

Kim explained that the program relies on community volunteers to staff the classes of around 20 students each. Volunteers will supervise students and assist with any technical issues they may have, Kim said.

She noted that CDC guidelines will be strictly followed and masks are required. Participating facilities must be child-ready, as well. The current plan is for the program to run through December, Kim said.

School district Receiver Janet Samuels and acting Superintendent Chris Celmer attended to talk about the decision to conduct virtual classes.

“The Harrisburg School District will be online, which unfortunately may create difficulty for many working parents,” Samuels said. “We know, in spite of the pandemic, many parents do not have the luxury of working at home and are adversely impacted on a daily basis.

According to Samuels, 75% of all working mothers work outside of their homes.

“This incredible initiative will allow parents who need it most to have support to enable their children to participate in instructional activities in a safe and structured environment,” she said.

Kait Gillis-Hanna, executive director of the Brethren Housing Association, was concerned about the time of the program not being long enough.

She explained her organization helps provide single mothers and their children who are experiencing homelessness with housing and support services.

“Our moms need to work,” Gillis-Hanna said. “They’re working on getting employment and, without someone to assist with their children’s education during the day, there’s a choice they’re going to have to make.”

Although the program only runs in the morning, Kim said this will cover the primary time students will have scheduled classes through the district.

“We are aware that this program will not help every family’s needs, and I feel badly about that,” Kim said. “But when you’re depending on volunteers, we need to start small and build out.”

Families will need to apply for the program at Here, volunteers can also sign up, and organizations can apply to become a “Community Classroom.”

“We have seen amazing heroes like our healthcare workers, frontline workers, essential workers and teachers,” Kim said. “I think this is our opportunity to be a hero, too.”

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