Tutors

King Dozier, a tutor at Fitness Weights and Aerobics Gym in downtown Johnstown, tutors a third-grader from Greater Johnstown Elementary School on his math.

With schools transitioned to complete virtual mode while COVID-19 cases rise, parents are caught between going to work and staying available to their children at home.  

Deneshia Vample, 26, said she reduced her work hours as a home health aide so that she could help her children with online schooling. She made her choice also to diminish the potential of encountering the virus at work. 

“It’s stressful,” she said on a walk with her children along David Street in the Oakhurst neighborhood Wednesday morning.

“If I don’t work, how can I take care of them?”

The pandemic and resultant economic crisis has especially affected women, according to a recent report from the Center for Economic Policy Research.

“Standard downturns” including the 2008 recession affected manufacturing and construction where men hold most jobs. But women’s employment is concentrated in health care and education, which are risky in terms of exposure – and on the front lines of the pandemic.

The current crisis has also upended service occupations with high female employment shares, such as restaurants and hospitality. But there are an untold number of parents who leave jobs for their children.

‘A support system’

Tatianna Brown said she quit her job at a FedEx warehouse in New Jersey to spend more time with her children, ages 4 and 6, who have been enrolled in cyber education since the pandemic started.

“I felt like I was spending more time at work than with my children,” she said.

The children continued their enrollment in cyber school based in New Jersey, she said, even though she moved with them to Johnstown last month to be closer to her mother.

Without a job, she said she is collecting welfare for the time being as she lives in the Coopersdale public housing.

The U.S. Labor Department’s latest report states the unemployment rate declined by one percentage point to 6.9% in October, and the number of unemployed people fell by

1.5 million to 11.1 million. Both measures have declined for six consecutive months but remain nearly twice the levels seen in February, prior to the pandemic.

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate fell one percentage point to 7.3% in October. 

Brown said her mother helps her watch the children for part of the day. 

“You have to have a support system,” she said, walking back to her home from the grocery store with her children. “You can’t make it by yourself in this pandemic unless you are Superman.”

‘Been an adjustment’

The closure of schools to control COVID-19 transmission has a greater effect on women economically, given their role in providing most of the informal care within families, with consequences that limit their work and economic opportunities, a recent United Nations report read.

But the outbreak has increased the share of household responsibilities for fathers, too.

Since Greater Johnstown School District transitioned all students to online learning Nov. 12, it’s been a challenge for working fathers including Xavier Thomas, 32, who reduced his hours working as a basketball trainer by 40% so that he could help his daughters with their schoolwork on the days they live with him.

“My kids come first,” he said. 

“We’ve made it work. We’ve cut back as a family in our style of living.

‘It’s been an adjustment but I think my daughters get it.”

Thomas said two people close to him have died from COVID-19, and he believes in measures including online schooling to slow the spread of the virus.

“I hope things go back to normal soon, but I understand everything going on for us as a country,” he said. “I’m much more worried about people’s health and safety.”

Thomas spoke to The Tribune-Democrat while treating his nieces to some time out of the house, playing basketball at the YMCA. 

The YMCA has transformed a racquetball court into a place where students can use free Wi-Fi. The YMCA is looking for volunteer staff to be available to help students, CEO Shawn Sebring said.

Help with technology

Cambria County Library Youth Services Assistant Kristen Panek said students have increasingly needed the library for Zoom meetings and internet access.

Panek herself is a mother of two and works part time. 

She has adjusted her time off to coincide with the days her youngest, a sixth-grader, is home with academic questions and sometimes technical problems.

“I’ve seen more and more families with kids slowly trickling in, and I think it’s only going to increase as the winter goes on,” she said.

Including those locations, Greater Johnstown School District has established dozens of Wi-Fi hot spots in the community.

The Flood City Youth Fitness Academy at the Fitness Weights and Aerobics Gym on Lincoln Street offers Wi-Fi and a new computer lab with desktops and laptops. 

To offset the strain on parents, FWA also provides information technology staff and tutors to help students through academic lessons and technical issues. The after-school program is from 2 to 6 p.m. 

Certified nursing assistant Myra Coleman brings her children to the program for a break from being stuck at home.

She has two daughters, ages 13 and 7, and has changed her work schedule so she can be home to monitor their school work. 

“It’s challenging,” she said. 

“You have to pick going to work or being at home with your kids. I haven’t figured out how to make it work right now except for reducing hours during the week and picking up work on the weekends.”

‘Life-sustaining skills’

FWA owner Oscar Cashaw, 66, has seen jobs in Johnstown diminish during his lifetime and economic difficulty grip many families. Fortunately for the area’s youth, he said, the school system and its instructors are excellent.

But with schools completely online, children are vulnerable to falling through the cracks, he said. 

“We already are in a community ravaged by unemployment,” he said. “FWA fitness academy is working with the school district to give children life-sustaining skills. Our goal is to make children self-sufficient in life and not be left behind because of the pandemic.”   

Greater Johnstown Superintendent Amy Arcurio said she is grateful for the district’s community partners and volunteers who have been helping parents and students adjust to online learning. 

“It’s not easy for parents to support their employers and their children placed in virtual education settings overnight,” she said. “My heart goes out to families. We are right on the verge of Christmas and people are looking at reducing hours or quitting jobs to be with their children as they learn from home. It’s a terrible situation for everyone.”

FWA after-school program tutor Alayjia Croft volunteers outside of the program’s hours to help friends. At 8 a.m. a few days a week, she tutors a student whose parents are at work. 

Croft, whose post-graduate studies are in early childhood education, said the digital divide has had a deleterious affect on students’ grades. 

“I’ve seen some of my best kids’ grades drop,” she said. “It’s hard for them to understand some of their academics by themselves. Kids need consistency and a schedule to adjust to virtual learning. Those are the biggest things, along with love and patience.”  

Russ O'Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.

 

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