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Families looking for flexibility from employers

Prudence Burgardt, right, teaches Addie Johnson, 9, how to apply her collaged animal fashion to a poster paper Wednesday at Peddler of Dreams children’s art workshop on Front Street in Marietta. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

After selecting blended learning or remote learning with your child’s school, what’s next?

Coordinate device pickup for each child, check.

Figure out how to work Google classroom, check.

Buy masks and water bottles for each kid, check.

Map out the days they’re in the building and the days they’re home, check.

Art classes and wifi will be available for children requiring structured space as school returns to session in Marietta in the next two weeks. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

But then what?

How does one hold client meetings, privileged phone calls, take food orders or work in a manufacturing plant, while safely providing a consistent structure at home for a child to learn letters, phonics and multiplication tables?

That’s the stress many families are contending with this week as they look to their employers for flexibility and support with classes beginning in the next couple of weeks.

“I could just see the stress in the eyes of my staff,” said Chris Hall, of Hall Financial with offices in Marietta and Parkersburg. “We had to figure out how are we going to take care of our families. The happier they can be outside of work, the more productive and efficient they can be inside of work.”

In the spring, when the coronavirus pandemic instigated shutdowns, emergency work-from-home measures were implemented for those lucky enough to stay employed through a massive economic downturn.

Art classes and wifi will be available for children requiring structured space as school returns to session in Marietta in the next two weeks. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

School districts relied upon teachers piecing together some semblance of educational supplement to close out the school year while the families that maintained employment often did so from home, working late into the night or trying to complete assignments with unregulated children.

But now as a community, and as a nation, families face the fall reentry into buildings, with limited capacities, days of mandated remote learning or the selection for full remote learning due to individual family risks.

“With the mothers that work for our firm we have nine children in school, some in West Virginia and some in Ohio that are being impacted by this, all with differing schedules for when they’re going to be in their classrooms,” said Hall.

But with seven out of 10 women still traditionally in the United States serving as the primary caregiver of children in the home, even when employed, the concern about fiscal disparities, and stunted career progression weighed heavily on Hall’s mind.

“When you’re dealing with somebody’s child, you’re talking about the most precious thing to them. That’s the most important thing in these mothers worlds,” said Hall. “So we had to come up with a creative solution, not just prevent impeding mothers’ career advancement, this is about the kids.”

So for his employees, the partners of Hall Financial made the investment into renovating corporate space for a supervised schoolhouse and hired on a new early-childhood education graduate from the Ohio State University full-time to provide supervised tutoring and structure on the days when his staff need the resource.

Meanwhile small businesses like the Peddler of Dreams’ children’s art studio and workshop on Front Street, are also looking to challenges of revenue to continue making rent, while hoping to help ease the blended learning burden on parents.

“I’ve been holding classes during the week and every Saturday this summer,” said Prudence Burgardt, owner of the art workshop. “But during the school year I’m also usually a substitute teacher, I don’t know if I’ll even have that work or how that’s going to go.”

So with eyes on the goals of productivity, revenue and aiding local families with their need for childcare and structured/supervised instruction time when not in the brick-and-mortar classrooms, both are designing solutions.

“I think I’ll be open to between eight and 10 kids a day, try to keep the rates low and affordable for the families that need a place even for a couple of hours for their kid to come and work on schoolwork or need a break from school and to do art,” said Burgardt. “Even if the parents just need a couple of hours so they can get uninterrupted work done, it could make sense to bring your child here.”

Neither business owner plans to run a daycare or other type of facility requiring additional licensure, but they want to do their part to help.

“I’m thankful to not have young children right now, especially for the single parents that are trying to figure out what they’re going to do when their kids are home,” said Burgardt.

Hall encouraged other executives and business owners, even if skeptical of the social good providing a conference room or structured space could provide, to consider the bottom line impacts.

“I would ask you to find compassion and understand that the better life at home is for your employees, the more happy that my employees are outside of this workplace the better they’ll be at the workplace,” he explained. “It’s not just an investment in them as a person but it’s a real investment in my business. It’s a real challenge for everybody but there is an opportunity to enhance these folks’ lives… they’ll be more productive at work and more focused, they’ll create more output at work instead of constantly worried about their kid or their childcare provider.”

The two hope that other employers locally also look to creative ways to support not only their staff but the educational trajectories of children to enter the workforce in years to come, simply by thinking a little outside the box.

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