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Y Academy programs offer academic support, child care

Families have been trying to navigate the new normal of hybrid and remote learning for their children since the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Many local school districts, including the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District, tried to give parents ample time to make plans for the blended school environment. That proved challenging for Gary Eng, a single parent of two elementary school children, according to a press release from the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County.

Eng is an application support analyst who has been working from home and needed help with his 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. He was thrilled when he heard the Freehold Family YMCA in Freehold Township opened its new Y Academy this year, according to the press release.

“These are tough times, but the Y Academy gives us some sense of normalcy,” Eng said.

Eng’s daughter Karina is in fourth grade and his son attends a local preschool. On days when Karina has remote learning, Gary takes her to the Y Academy from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. She also takes part in the Y’s after-school program on the days when she has in-person classes, according to the press release.

“When she is at the Y Academy, Karina can log in to her school classes and she has academic support from the Y staff. She also gets to spend time outdoors and do other fun activities. Being with other children is psychologically good for her,” Eng said.

Among other things, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic has created evolving challenges for working families with school-age children everywhere, according to the press release.

In response, the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County introduced the Y Academy program, now available at five locations: the Freehold Family YMCA; the Freehold Borough YMCA Community Center; the Old Bridge Family YMCA; YMCA Children’s Achievement Center in Matawan; and the Red Bank Family YMCA.

“One of our main goals was to provide convenient, flexible and safe child care options and academic support for working parents in our community,” Y President and CEO Laurie Goganzer said.

There are more than 40 children participating at the Freehold Family YMCA Academy and more than 150 children enrolled throughout Monmouth and Middlesex counties. Children attend two or three days a week for a half-day or a full-day.

The children log in to their virtual classes from a personal device and receive help with schoolwork from YMCA staff members and volunteers.

The Y offers non-contact activities like yoga and STEAM challenges (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), and the children get to spend time outdoors. They also take part in mindfulness activities, according to the press release.

“We have and continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health department guidelines during the pandemic,” said Stacey Lastella, vice president of child achievement.

In addition to the Y Academy, the Y provides before-school and after-school care in 15 Monmouth County school districts, and full-day kindergarten and full-time child care in Freehold and Matawan to support local families. Sliding scale financial assistance is available for all programs based on need, according to the press release.

For information about the Y Academy and other YMCA programs, visit www.ymcanj.org

Goganzer said community volunteers are welcome to lend a hand at the Y Academy as part of the nonprofit organization’s Togetherhood volunteer initiative. Individuals who are interested in volunteering may contact Stacey Lastella at slastella@ymcanj.org

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