One day during the summer, Jeff Rosalsky, executive director of the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC), was thinking about viable alternatives for parents and kids making back-to-school decisions.
PEEC has the facility, staff, and experience to offer such alternatives, he thought. The center can provide supervised virtual school, science and environmental education, outdoor nature activities, and an indoor facility spacious enough for many students to social distance. And so PEEC School Care became a reality.
”The best that we can do is to influence the things we can for the better,” said Rosalsky.
The PEEC School Care program is the answer for many working parents who can’t stay home with their children, or who are not in a position to supervise their virtual schooling. It provides a respite for parents whose children are following a hybrid school schedule -- one week on/one week off -- and even gives home-schooled children and their parents some variety in their routines.
“Our daughter loves PEEC,” said Jessica Alonso, whose daughter Ellie Aukeman attends the program. “She was thrilled to learn that she could attend ‘school camp’ after having a wonderful time at PEEC camp over the summer. Along with her remote academic education, she gets nature education and outdoor exploration. It’s great model and we feel fortunate for the opportunity.”
Eight-year-old Jacob Gutschmidt attended PEEC Summer Camp for the past three years and is now in the School Care program. “He loves returning each summer to see his friends and the counselors are great at welcoming new kids and making them feel welcome,” said his mother, Grace Gutschmidt. “Jacob loves all the activities, the hiking on the trails, and especially muck racking! As a parent, I feel the environment is safe and clean. The counselors communicate regularly with me and always respond quickly to any concerns. I trust them.”
Stephanie Sherman-Barr, PEEC’s educational director, runs the School Care program. She also ran the very successful PEEC summer camp this year. She has a bachelor’s degree in conservation and wildlife management and studied environmental education at Montclair State College as a graduate student. All instructors in the School Care program have at least a bachelor of science degree, as well as backgrounds in environmental education.
The program follows Pennsylvania and federal Centers for Disease Contol (CDC) Covid guidelines. Everyone wears a mask, there are daily non-contact temperature checks, and six-feet distances are easily maintained. The program is equipped to take students from Delaware Valley, Stroudsburg, Sussex County, Port Jervis, Montague, and even New York City.
The virtual part of the program follows public school curricula. PEEC teachers add value by helping students understand their subject matter. They also provide guided activities such as field study, wildlife artifacts, native wildlife observations, water quality studies, and other hands-on nature/science activities.
There is per diem registration for the program. The fee is $40 per day. This is commensurate with places like Blairstown Academy and yet is still cheaper than childcare or babysitting, which do not add educational value. Students can come for a day, two days, or a full week. Instruction is very individualized and in many ways is much like PEEC’s summer program.
Teachers greet parents at the daily pick-up spot and give them a recap of their child’s day.
The parents and children are delighted with the program. “The parents have been super pro-active,” Sherman-Barr said.
Jodi Hancock, whose children, Jackson and Maxwell Hancock, attend the program, is grateful they can be outside, explore nature, and have a change of scenery.
“During these challenging times for children, PEEC has created a safe place for them to get to be kids again,” she said “Stephanie Sherman-Barr has done an amazing job of creating a safe place for the children to be during COVID-19. Stephanie is a smart and capable leader who I trust during these complicated times. As a working parent, the school care program is a creative solution to some of the challenges families face during in these current times. We are lucky to have a resource like PEEC in Pike County.”