‘All day at the J’

‘All day at the J’

Rockland program provides guidance for students, respite for harried parents

Volunteers help children as they tackle their schoolwork.
Volunteers help children as they tackle their schoolwork.

If federations and JCCs exist to fill communal needs, then Rockland JCC’s “All Day at the J” program is not just timely but also very much mission-driven. With so many parents working from home — and thus unable to pay full attention to their children’s online education — the JCC has stepped in to provide daily assistance to these families.

“We need it now more than ever,” said Kelli Kersh, the JCC’s director of children and family programming, who helped create and now heads up “All Day at the J.” “It really came out of necessity. The mission is to be here for families, to read their needs.”

The program, which now serves some 80 students, ranging from kindergarteners to fifth-graders — most of them from Clarkstown but also from Nyack, Nanuet, Pearl River, and even Manhattan — provides a quiet, adult-guided space for students to stay as they participate in their virtual classes. (The Manhattan student went to camp at the JCC last summer. “He loved it, so he shleps here three times a week,” Ms. Kersh said.)

Children study and play all day at the J.

Sessions follow the schedules the school districts have arranged. To call the system complicated is to understate its complexities. “Some days we have 30 students, other days 45, depending on cohort days,” Ms. Kersh said. “It’s however the school splits them up” — and that varies by district.

She explained that children attend school in person two or three days a week. The other days, the learning is virtual. “A lot of families are working families,” she said. “They needed a place for kids to do virtual learning when they’re not in school.” Parents, she said, can’t always devote attention to their children when the children need it.

The JCC program was developed toward the end of the summer, “and the feedback has been fantastic,” she said. “We are receiving high praise from families for being there for them.”

“My little guy is thriving,” one mom wrote. “He made these amazing books — one about the Titanic (lol, happy ending, everyone gets a lifeboat!) and two about Minecraft. I know he feels comfortable with you all at the J…

“You create that loving environment. I see your organizational hand everywhere to give them structure, and the warmth and kindness to make them feel loved.”

This note came from a father: “‘All Day at the J’ has really been fantastic for our boys, and a great change of pace from doing their work at home with no other kids around. It has been amazing to see Kelli and her team keep the program open and safe.”

About 14 staff members participate in the program. “It’s incredible what they’re doing,” Ms. Kersh said; each of these staff members has been hand-picked for the job, she added.

Kelli Kersh is the director of the JCC’s children’s and family programming.

“They know how to juggle,” Ms. Kersh said, referring to the way the staff deals with students’ different schedules. “Part of this is making sure that they know when an assignment is due or when a student has a break,” for example. The staff are not certified teachers, and some have served the JCC before as counselors. Still, she said, “they’re sort of teachers, helping with tough assignments.

“In the beginning it was tricky” and there was a learning curve. Now, we have it down to a science.”

The children bring their own iPads, laptops, or other devices. The JCC staff who work with them “communicate with parents and teachers to share schedules” and discuss such events as library programs. “There’s constant communication with the family,” she said. Staff members have also developed relationships with the teachers, and they may text each other. “The communication piece is important, and we have nailed it.”

An important part of the program, which is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., is to “offer socialization for these kids,” Ms. Kersh said. “They’re not getting it during this pandemic. Kids stuck at home may get the benefit of one-on-one attention, “but they’re missing a key component of their education — socialization.” The program has fostered new friendships in addition to reuniting both “kids who have been in our school since the baby room” and camp friends.

Kids play in snow, which has been rare this winter.

The All Day at the J program also offers enriching activities. When students are on a break or are finished with the day’s formal schooling, they may participate in arts and crafts projects, cooking, or science and nature projects, using the JCC’s resources to supplement their virtual learning. In addition, there are games and a mini-gym available to them.

Ms. Kersh stressed that the JCC strictly follows CDC and health department regulations, and “we do not mix classes. Each class is a pod, or household, with the same staff. Every morning there is a health screening and if someone has a temperature of 100 or above, they cannot enter.” In addition, she said, children are spread out in large classrooms, “and we have a good clean team, bleaching and sanitizing.

“We provide a safe, healthy, nurturing, fun place for kids to do their schoolwork,” she said. “It’s not a standard school program, but we go with the flow.”

For more information about this program, go to jccrockland.org.

read more: