Though in-person schooling won’t begin until at least Sept. 8, some Scottsdale Unified students could find themselves back on campus much sooner.
Governor Doug Ducey on July 23 ordered that while schools don’t have to begin in-person learning, districts must provide “free on-site learning opportunities and support services for students who need a place to go during the day” beginning Aug. 17.
Scottsdale Unified was already developing those plans prior to Ducey’s order, Superintendent Scott Menzel said.
Beginning the first day of school on Aug. 10, the district will open free “enhanced distance learning camps” at five schools for students in kindergarten through 8th grade.
SUSD will also host a walk-in learning lab at Coronado High School for middle and high school students.
“We’re working to understand the specific parameters of the governor’s executive order, but we also felt it was important to continue with the planning that we had done under the prior executive order to stand up these first five (locations),” Menzel said.
Menzel said there are conflicting and unclear pieces of information in the executive order and that the district needs clarity from the Governor’s Office in order to understand exact expectations.
Other community organizations have also stepped in to help families navigate schooling during the pandemic.
The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Scottsdale will offer virtual learning centers for families that cannot keep their children at home at a cost of $179 per week or $40 per day for children ages 5 to 12. The cost for teenagers is $50 per week.
The program begins on Wednesday, Aug. 5, and will be available at the Hartley & Ruth Barker Branch, 2311 N. Miller Road; the Thunderbirds Branch, 20199 N. 78th Place; and the Virginia G. Piper Branch, 10515 E. Lakeview Drive.
Boys and Girls Club of Greater Scottsdale will also host programs at the Vestar Branch in Phoenix and the Mary Ellen & Robert McKee Branch in Fountain Hills.
SUSD’s camps will be held at Desert Canyon Elementary, Hopi Elementary, Pima Traditional, Pueblo Elementary and Tonalea K-8. Space at each school will initially be limited to 100 students.
Preference will be given to children of first responders, SUSD district staff and essential workers. The district will also give preference to students who receive special education services, English language services, have a 504 Plan or attend a Title I school.
Menzel said the district could still offer additional services and is in the process of issuing a survey to families to determine the need.
Menzel said the district is still working through a number of issues as it determines what expanding the camps will look like.
“It could potentially expand, and it’s predicated on a number of things – “understanding what the requirements are in governor’s executive order, understanding how we can staff expansion,” he said
Menzel said most schools in the program are already licensed for after-school care and the staff from those programs will work in the learning camps.
Menzel said safety is another consideration as the district does not want to put too many students and staff members in a given space.
“And we still have to deal with the mitigation strategy related to the numbers of individuals that are gathered in any particular space…we are still in the midst of an infection rate that’s over 20% or hovering in that ballpark… and we’re going to be considering all of those factors as we think about what’s next.”
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale have also taken steps to improve safety, including requesting that Maricopa County assign an investigator they can call if a safety or health issue arises.
Various protocols, including mandatory masks, also are in effect.
The first five SUSD camps that open on Aug. 10 will operate during normal school hours and students will be required to stay the time.
Breakfast and lunch will be provided and, as in a typical school year, the cost will be determined by whether or not a student qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch programs.
At the Boys and Girls Club locations, attendees will spend the first part of the day on school work with technical and emotional support from staff, said Sanft, adding that he hopes the program will help families, students and teachers make the best of a chaotic situation.
“We’re in no way trying to replace teachers,” branch director Christian Sanft said. “What we are trying to do is help our members and their families but also help our awesome teachers in the state of Arizona…to have (students) learn and progress the way that their teachers want to teach them to.”
During after hours, Boys and Girls Club will provide typical after-school activities with social distancing in mind.
“We’re not playing basketball where it’s impossible to social distance,” Sanft said. “We’re playing a little more Wiffle ball, where he can get away with playing the game, still having a good time, talking about sportsmanship, getting an exercise and also maintaining social distancing.”
After school programs will also be provided at some SUSD campuses, including the fee-based Kid’s Club at Desert Canyon, Hopi, Pima and Pueblo elementary schools.
The City of Scottsdale also runs after-school programs at Navajo, Hohokam/Yavapai, Tonalea K-8 and Echo Canyon schools.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale have offered programs for kids ever since they reopened on earlier this summer, giving the organization a head start in figuring out how to implement safety measures with kids of all ages.
“You can’t talk to kids about the fact that we’re following the CDC guidelines,” Sanft said.
But, even with those challenges, Sanft said the children have adapted to the new normal better than he expected.
“I will say that whenever school to do decide to go back,” he said, Boys and Girls Club kids are going to be 100 percent ready.”