Goodwin Learning Academy helps families balance work, remote learning
By: Kyle Stucker
Fosters Daily Democrat
SOMERSWORTH — Greater Seacoast Community Health has created a new learning center to lessen the struggles its employees are having while trying to balance pandemic childcare and remote learning with their work duties.
“Once this started it was seriously a breath of fresh air,” said Riona Corr, 32, a parent of three and the director of the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program at Goodwin Community Health, one of the organizations that comprise GSCH.
Corr’s son Grady, a first-grader at Idlehurst Elementary School in Somersworth, attends the learning center inside Goodwin seven hours a day Monday through Thursday while Corr works downstairs. Corr also has a 3-year-old son who attends preschool and a baby girl her in-laws watch during the day.
At the learning center, teachers hired by GSCH assist Grady with his remote learning coursework, provide individualized instruction and handle other childcare responsibilities in a meeting space GSCH converted into a classroom in September.
“Before, I was just feeling this guilt, that I wasn’t doing enough for my child,” Corr said, describing her old COVID-19 routine, which involved sitting with Grady throughout the school day to help with remote learning, then squeezing her work into the afternoon and evening between making dinner and providing other care for Grady and other children. “It was just so draining.”
Patrice Baker, Goodwin’s parent and family education coordinator, said GSCH created the learning center because staff found, as the 2020-21 school year began, there still were many challenges and limited options for families seven months into the pandemic.
Many parents throughout the region and nationwide have left jobs and careers in order to provide childcare and education, or, like Corr, are struggling to balance home and work as they perform important frontline roles.
“It’s just a hard position to put our parents in,” Baker said.
The learning center is open to all of GSCH’s employees, which number in the hundreds across the various Goodwin, Families First, SOS Recovery Community Organization and Lilac City Pediatrics offices.
As of Monday, seven children were enrolled in the center. There were three first-graders, including Grady, two second-graders and an eighth-grader.
Baker said GSCH is committed to providing the center through at least the 2020-21. The program has availability for additional children and can safely grow by converting other meeting spaces at Goodwin.
“At this point, there aren’t many (face-to-face) meetings going on right now,” Baker said. “It’s a great use of the space.”
Baker said she hopes more employees will take advantage.
“I wish we could do more of it and open it up to the community,” Baker said, expressing regret GSCH isn’t able to make the center available to patients and other community members who lack the ability or means to secure an alternative. “We’d need a lot more space to do that.”
Three students were present Monday. Grady participated in video instruction with his Idlehurst class while a fellow first-grader named Brody worked on addition at his desk and Baker helped a second grader named Jayden on a worksheet that asked him to count the value of various sequences of coins.
Each student has their own desk, in addition to socially distanced areas in which the students can work on group activities together.
Learning center teachers Jaimie Steeves and Kendall Dapprich had some arts and crafts activities planned for the afternoon, when they’d have the boys make Halloween decorations for the classroom.
Steeves, Dapprich and Baker are assisted by three University of New Hampshire students at various points of the week, and part of the education provided also includes pandemic-related hygiene and life skills.
Steeves, a former daycare employee and paraprofessional, said she’s enjoying meeting a need for local families and that she unfortunately doesn’t “see the need changing” any time soon.
“The kids are great,” she said. “They’re so good at adapting and adjusting to this. At their age, I can’t imagine them going through this.”