Newark opens centers where students can take online classes while parents work

Julius Romero attended one of Newark’s new remote learning centers on Wednesday. Eligible students can attend the sites for free while their parents work. (Courtesy of Jaz West-Romero)

Newark is offering free child care to working parents who have been squeezed by remote learning — but space is limited and families have to apply quickly.

Eligible families will be able to send their children to nine sites across the city where students can attend online classes under adult supervision and receive breakfast and lunch. Operated by the city of Newark and the school district, the free program will ensure that students can learn remotely in a safe space with internet access while their parents or guardians are at work, officials said.

In recent months, cities across the country have launched free remote-learning sites as an alternative to private “learning pods,” where parents pay hundreds of dollars for tutors to supervise their children’s online learning. In Newark, a charter school network opened a few learning centers last month.

The new citywide program, which is open to students in traditional and charter schools, follows an outcry from working parents who said the decision to keep school buildings closed this fall put them in a bind. Some parents had to pay babysitters, while others changed their work schedules or even left their jobs to focus on their children’s online learning.

“As working parents, especially single parent households, we need this support,” said Jaz West-Romero, a single mother of four Newark students who urged city officials to support working families during remote learning.

(City of Newark)

Students in grades 1-8 in public Newark schools are eligible to attend the sites, which are based at recreation centers and a public library. The program started quietly on Monday, and families have until noon on Thursday to apply.

However, demand for seats could easily outstrip supply. More than 50,000 students attend public schools in Newark — but the centers only have space for 415 students, which will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis, city officials said. 

“We have all of this space,” Mayor Ras Baraka said during an online briefing this week when he encouraged families to apply for the spots. “We need to get your kids there.”

Last month, Newark’s district and charter schools reversed course and decided to start the school year remotely. Since then, West-Romero has been pleading with officials to offer free child care for working parents like her, a full-time paralegal who can’t afford to take off work to oversee her children’s home learning.

“I’m the single source of income” for the family, she said. “If I’m not working, no one is eating.”

She scrambled to make child-care arrangements for each of her children, which included driving her 6-year-old son, Julius, to stay with relatives in the Bronx. But the relative who was babysitting Julius does not speak English and could not help with his remote learning, causing him to miss several virtual school days this month, West-Romero said.

On Wednesday, Julius began attending Newark’s new child care program, called Remote Learning Assistance. West-Romero said staff members took children’s temperatures as they entered, desks were spaced several feet apart, and a classroom aide was available to answer questions.

“I’m happy that officials heard parents and got it together,” she said.

It’s unclear how many families know about the new program or the tight timeline to apply.

City officials said they promoted the new program on social media and sent the application to city employees, and Baraka is expected to discuss it on his daily Facebook Live briefing Wednesday evening. Newark Superintendent Roger León described the program at a school board meeting Tuesday after he was asked about it.

“This is an opportunity that a lot of people might not necessarily be aware of,” León said. “We encourage everyone to apply.”

Eligible families can apply here. Students can attend from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, and extended hours are available for families that need them.

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