PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- The Arizona Department of Education is pouring $1.5 million more into kids clubs so students have a place to go to log into their virtual classes. It's a continuation of a partnership with the Arizona Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs and the Arizona Alliance of YMCAs. For many parents, it's been a lifesaver during months of school-from-home learning.

Dakota Whitney's first-grade son logs on to his virtual classes from a Boys and Girls Club in Glendale. For several months, Dakota was looking all over the Valley for childcare during school hours because the Washington Elementary School District was in the remote learning model, but she couldn't work from home. For a while, she tried to take days off to homeschool her son.

"Going through all my PTO (paid time off) by the end of the year, rolling into the next year was tough," she said.

Around the holidays, she got her son into the Boys and Girls Club. Their locations, along with YMCA locations all around the state, have received CARES Act money from the Department of Education so they can double their operating hours. Though they typically function as an after-school childcare option, they're currently open from 7 am to 6 pm.

"This was definitely needed for us to keep our job and everything else," Dakota said.

"When the school wasn't an option, the clubhouse became that option," Swift Kids Branch Director Eric Watkins said. About 50-60 kids a day come into the branch to do remote school while parents are at work. Watkins has noticed the younger kids especially miss being around their teachers in person.

"We as staff have kind of been filling the void, per say, for that distance learning program time," he said.

"Given the highly concerning rate of community spread across our state, and the corresponding need for more schools to return to a distance learning model, the extra support of the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs will provide necessary relief to schools and families, ensuring that every student who needs a safe place to learn, has one," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. "Access to affordable childcare is an issue that precedes the pandemic, and now providing children a safe place to learn is more necessary than ever. I am so grateful for the partnership of community-based organizations like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club."

With an extra $1.5 million to keep the partnership going this semester, Dakota's not worried about having to choose between her son and her job.

"That is very relieving," she said. "I know, we don't know if things are going to close again or open, but to have the support and the resources all the different age groups may need... it is nice to have that convenience there."


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