This story is part of “Parenting in a Pandemic,” WTOP’s continuing coverage of how parents are dealing with child care, schooling and more through the coronavirus pandemic.
Howard County, Maryland, is launching a program called RecZone to help families with child care needs this fall — and it’s being offered at a lower cost thanks to money from the federal CARES Act.
County Executive Calvin Ball announced Wednesday that the Department of Recreation and Parks received federal funding that cuts the cost of RecZone by roughly 30%.
The program will offer virtual learning assignments, crafts and activities, such as sports, music and drama for students in kindergarten to fifth grade. It starts Sept. 8 at select schools in Howard County, and will be open five days a week until Dec. 31.
“This global pandemic is testing all facets of our systems, and child care is not an exception. Without a reliable, safe place for parents and guardians to send children each day, it is going to be a serious emotional and physical toll on families,” Ball said during an online briefing.
“On top of these challenges, there are still many residents who are facing tough financial situations — job loss, overdue bills, rent or mortgage payments — and are just struggling to get by.”
When the RecZone program was announced Aug. 12, it was set to cost $325 a week for the extended day care option (7 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and $259 a week for a shorter option (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.), but with the new funding, those costs will go down to $219 and $185 per week, respectively. Parents who already paid will receive a refund.
“Our goal was to make it as affordable as we possibly could,” Ball said. “Reducing the cost of this program by a third for all of our families is a significant, significant success.”
More than 100 people have registered so far, and the program can accommodate up to 425 children, although that may be expanded depending on demand.
Space will be limited, though, because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“Safety is a major part of all of this,” said Laura Wetherald, coordinator of RecZone.
She said each school location will host two groups of 15 people — 13 children and two staff.
Wetherald cited other precautions, such as temperature checks, and said that parents will stay outside as children are dropped off. Children in the program also will have their own entrances and bathrooms to avoid other people in the building.
Wetherald said RecZone will resemble a typical school day, with times for breaks, lunch and activities.
Asked why schools can’t simply reopen if they can hold in-person programs such as these, Ball pointed out that RecZone will have a maximum of 425 participants “across the entire county in a school system that has almost 60,000 students, so I think there isn’t really a fair comparison when we talk about opening up all of our schools with having a child care program where parents will be able to opt in.”
Howard County Public Schools is working to finalize the following host locations:
- Bellows Spring Elementary School: 8125 Old Stockbridge Road, Ellicott City
- Bollman Bridge Elementary School: 8200 Savage-Guilford Road, Savage
- Bushy Park Elementary School: 14601 Carrs Mill Road, Glenwood
- Clarksville Middle School: 6535 South Trotter Road, Clarksville
- Dayton Oaks Elementary School: 4691 Ten Oaks Road, Dayton
- Deep Run Elementary School: 6925 Old Waterloo Road, Elkridge
- Elkridge Elementary School: 7075 Montgomery Road, Elkridge
- Forest Ridge Elementary School: 9550 Gorman Road, Laurel
- Fulton Elementary School: 11600 Scaggsville Road, Fulton
- Hanover Hills Elementary School: 7030 Banbury Drive, Hanover
- Hollifield Station Elementary School: 8701 Stonehouse Drive, Ellicott City
- Ilchester Elementary School: 4981 Ilchester Road, Ellicott City
- Laurel Woods Elementary School: 9250 North Laurel Road, Laurel
- Manor Woods Elementary School: 11575 Frederick Road, Ellicott City
- Veterans Elementary School: 4355 Montgomery Road, Ellicott City
- Waverly Elementary School: 10220 Wetherburn Road, Ellicott City
RecZone currently has space at all locations, and is open to in-county and out-of-county students. For more information, visit www.howardcountymd.gov/childcare.