State licensed assistance available in Atascadero

ATASCADERO — Kids and parents have been forced to endure distance learning since the start of the 2020-2021 school year on Aug. 12.

Due to the state’s restrictions, schools in counties on the state’s watchlist were unable to open with in-person instruction, making life hard for parents to balance their work and children. Champions, licensed by the state, have been working to bridge the gap and help parents and children by offering in-person child care for families.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Champions operated as a before- and after-school program that provides a learning environment fostered in activity and movement explicitly tailored to a school’s and, most importantly, a student’s needs.

Champions shut down in early March as did the rest of the country, but were up and running throughout the summer at the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department’s request, helping essential workers and their families.

“In terms of what we needed to do in order to provide care, most of it has to do with being in compliance with CDC guidelines and the California Department of Health Guidelines around providing care during the COVID pandemic,” Champions Area Manager Tamara Payne-Alex told The Atascadero News. “We provided essential care in collaboration with the county through the summer. When school reopened, we were operating already on one campus and had space from the contract we had with the district on the other campuses, so we opened those other ones up.”

At the start of the school year, Champions had all five of its sites up and running as Atascadero Unified School District Superintendent Tom Butler had informed the public at Santa Rosa, Santa Margarita, San Benito, Monterey Road, and San Gabriel schools. In order for Champions to get licensed, they had to comply with several strict guidelines.

“There are some big differences between what we offered in terms of size and scope prior to the pandemic versus now,” Payne-Alex said. “Now, there are limitations on class size; you can only have a certain number of kiddos in a classroom.”

Champions is a member of the KinderCare Education family of brands, one of the largest in the country, and takes in kids as young as preschoolers up to 12 years old, depending on the different site locations Atascadero. Due to the pandemic, they are down to only half capacity as kids can only be in cohorts of up to 14 children depending on the age.

“Cohort is the terminology they are using for the number of kids that can interact with one another and have to be isolated from any other group or any other kids,” Payne-Alex continued. “This limits the amount of transmission that could happen if one of those children tested positive or was COVID positive and the limit on that is 14.”

While there can be multiple cohorts on-site, they cannot interact with any kids from a different group. They will also have the same educator in an attempt to reduce any spread of the coronavirus should a child or staff member test positive.

Everyone on the Champions campus wears a mask while working inside. While some parents assumed it would be nearly impossible to get children to comply with the new mandate, the organization has had quite the opposite experience.

“Sometimes there are concerns as to whether or not kids will adapt to masks and honestly, for the kids, it’s a non-thing for the most part,” the area manager explained. “If everybody else is wearing masks, there are very few issues with it at all.”

Not only is Champions giving parents the assistance they need during the pandemic, but they also help the kids with their school work, often going above and beyond the standard job description.

Aside from helping students log into their devices and fix a crashed Zoom meeting, Champions teachers are now actively assisting students in staying on track and even emailing teachers with questions regarding assignments and meeting times.

“There are definite challenges. We are used to — traditionally, the way in which we run our program is much more kinesthetic and hands-on and based around activity,” Payne-Alex said. “So it feels very different to have the children, for a portion of the day, interacting with their screens with distance learning.”

Champions opened the school year at near capacity but maintain a waitlist as the working climate is currently in constant flux. Spots become available randomly. Those interested should reach out to Champions or access their website at discoverchampions.com.

Getting through this together, Atascadero