Wolfeboro hospital finds childcare solution by partnering with summer camp

Program aids employees juggling job and children’s remote learning needs
Student Care Sentinel Lodge

Marge Mansfield, a retired teacher who lives in Wolfeboro, teaches children at Camp Sentinel’s Sentinel Student Care Program.

Wolfeboro Selectwoman Linda Murray knew her own family was facing a childcare crisis with the coming school year. Her 8-year-old grandson was entering the second grade at Carpenter Elementary School, but would only be in school two days a week.

The Governor Wentworth Regional School District, which serves the communities of Brookfield, Effingham, New Durham, Ossipee, Tuftonboro and Wolfeboro, is holding in-person classes Mondays and Tuesdays for half of its student body. The other half receive in-person instruction on Thursdays and Fridays. The weekdays the students are not in school they are expected to attend remote learning classes. On Wednesdays, all students are being taught remotely.

Murray said her daughter is a teacher in the school district and is expected to be teaching from the school for in-person and remote classes five days a week. “She’s back in class, even though the kids only go twice a week, she goes all five days,” Murray said.

Her son-in-law works as a contractor and a carpenter. So while he has more flexibility to stay at home with the 8-year-old, he still needs to work at least three days a week, Murray said.

The family had more flexibility during the height of the pandemic because their high school-age and college-age sons were at home and could pitch in when supervision or help with remote learning were needed. Now both sons are in school full time.

‘A big thing for working parents’

Knowing what her family was facing, Murray said she knows other families must be facing similar dilemmas.

“We know that for most families, not working three days out of the week, puts them into financial trouble,” she said.

Murray has a background working on childcare solutions as a former board member of the Wolfeboro Area Children’s Center, so she reached out to the childcare center and other community partners to see what solutions there are for parents who need to return to work while their children are remote learning three days out of the work week.

“I started this working group to see if we could provide childcare for school age children during this Covid-19 pandemic,” Murray said. “The group is trying to find childcare for school age children during Governor Wentworth Regional School District’s hybrid school system.”

Upon meeting, Murray said she learned Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro had reached out to a nearby summer camp and retreat center in Tuftonboro, Camp Sentinel for help with their employees.

The group immediately reached out to Laura Stauss, vice president of human resources at the hospital, who joined the community working group on childcare and shared her solution.

Stauss said the hospital’s workforce was hit hard initially at the onset of the pandemic and stay at home order.

So many staff members at a hospital don’t have the option of working remotely, she said, including doctors and nurses and other staff.

“There were some people that just had to take a leave,” Stauss said. “So this summer we decided we needed to be proactive.”

The hospital already had a close relationship with area summer camps because they provide medical care for them when needed. So officials started exploring how the camps could serve as a remote learning/children care centers for hospitals employees’ children

In order to free up staff to come to work, Huggins is paying 100% of the cost of the programs being held at the camps, she said. “It’s such a big thing for working parents right now,” Stauss said of the childcare dilemma.

Safe environment

Camp Sentinel in Tuftonboro started up Sept. 14. The hospital is also working with Camp Brookwoods in Alton and Camp Cody in Freedom if childcare is needed by employees in those areas.

Kevin Van Brunt, president of Camp Sentinel, said the program runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday It is working with Huggins Hospital, Brewster Academy, the community working group as well as anyone who calls the camp and asks for help.

“When the community calls, Camp Sentinel answers,” Van Brunt said. “Within 24 hours we had 15 kids registered.”

Brewster Academy, a private boarding school in Wolfeboro, is paying 60% of the cost for the program for their employees who need it, since most of the staff cannot work remotely either.

The program costs $50 a day or $200 a week. Murray said the community group is working to secure grant or state or federal funds to subsidize those who can’t afford the program. Van Brunt said no one will be turned away for inability to pay.

“We’re mission-first, so we’re never going to turn a child away if they need us,” he said.

Van Brunt said the Camp Sentinel website also has a sponsorship option for community members who want to donate to the Sentinel Student Care Program.

According to the website, “The program is available for students in grades K-12. The purpose is to provide a safe environment where students may continue their remote education with adult supervision and support. Students will have access to the internet, and a quiet space to complete their remote learning, and staff will be available to help assist where needed.”

Thus far, 23 children have enrolled, Van Brunt said. There is room for 60.

The students need internet access and a quiet place to work, which the camp can provide. There are also staff members who are staying over from the summer season and even community volunteers such as Marge Mansfield, a retired teacher who lives in Wolfeboro.

Van Brunt said they hope to take advantage of the warm weather this fall as much as possible, adding many of the children acted like they have been cooped up for too long when they first arrived at camp.

“I noticed when the kids first arrived, they came in and they just had this look on their faces like they had been shell-shocked,” he said. “And then they run around the 600 acres and they are kids again.”

Murray said the students do their remote classes in the morning, have a mid-morning snack, more work, then lunch, if there is no work or classes after lunch they do activities, she said.

Murray said that, since school only started Sept. 14, so some families may find they can’t continue to juggle remote learning and work without some help. The need is unknown right now, she said.

“It’s still very new to all of us,” Murray said. “We’re still in a ‘is it going to work?’ mode.”

This article is being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.

Categories: Education, News