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'So Much Panic': Parents Race To Find Child Care For Remote Instruction

Ann Doss Helms

Stephanie Sneed is stressed. 

She has two kids — rising second- and seventh-graders — enrolled in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ all-remote academy for the fall semester. 

“The upcoming school year has my anxiety level off the charts,” Sneed said. 

In the spring, when schools first closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Sneed was juggling her job as a lawyer and helping her children with online school. She said she got just a few hours of sleep each night. 

“I feel like I cannot do that again, but this is where I am," she said. "It looks like I will be doing that again."

Sneed, like many in Charlotte and across North Carolina, is still trying to decide how to manage child care when the new school year begins. Many students will start off learning remotely and it’s unclear when that remote instruction might end. 

“There’s just so much panic around what to do with kids during the day,” Lonna Hays said. Hays, mother to rising first- and third-graders, is one of the leaders of the Charlotte Career Moms Facebook group, which has about 2,800 members. 

Hays teamed up with a neighbor to hire a nanny who will monitor their combined four kids each school day. She said she was “terrified” she wouldn’t be able to find a caregiver since so many families are in the same situation. 

“When CMS made the call — I think it was like 11 o’clock at night? — I was watching the meeting, and I posted a nanny description that night,” Hays said.

Hays said most people are paying $15-20 per hour for nannies. She didn’t specify how much her family will pay. 

The cost is $1,250 per month at a new distance learning program in Plaza Midwood. 

Liz Seegers and Holly Johnson started an organization called The Mothership in 2019 to offer activities like yoga, music and story time for young children. They are one of many Charlotte-area organizations pivoting to offer remote learning support. 

This school year, The Mothership is turning church space at Watershed Charlotte — currently unused because of the pandemic — into five classroom pods with about 50 students total. 

“We filled up within two days,” Seegers said. “I did probably 30 to 50 Zoom calls in a matter of 48 hours. All were about 15 minutes long and by the end of each Zoom call families were asking, ‘How do we sign up? Where do we send money?’” 

She said there’s now a waiting list.

The YMCA’s Back-to-School program is also near capacity.

In west Charlotte, the organization QC Family Tree normally hosts youth groups and community meals. With the high demand for child care, it’s begun turning its community space into a tiny school, including converting a clubhouse and a shed into classrooms. 

“I mean, it’s a large shed, but it’s still a shed,” said QC Family Tree Director Helms Jarrell. “We’ll have to fix it up, and that will be the computer space because it’s closest to the Wi-Fi.”

So far, QC Family Tree has raised $10,000 for the project, which Jarrell estimated will assist about 10 students from four different schools with their online learning. The money mostly came from grants. The organization has also asked parents to contribute “at the rate they are able and comfortable” as well as by helping with errands, supervising students or providing lunch. 

Shamaiye Haynes, founder of the Westside Education Think Tank, said she hopes other community organizations follow suit. 

“If people have open spaces with Wi-Fi access that just a few kids could go to to be able to do their virtual learning or whatever it is they need to do, those spaces [need to] become available,” Haynes said. 

She said filling the spaces won’t be a problem.

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