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Free Central Islip program helps essential workers, provides learning and fun for their kids

In response to the pandemic, Youth Enrichment Service,

In response to the pandemic, Youth Enrichment Service, a company founded to provide child care and after school programs for Islip families, started an emergency child care program for essential workers. Credit: Rhonda Nedderman

Back in March, Youth Enrichment Services started an emergency child care program for essential workers. Parents who work in hospitals, banks, pharmacies and more bring their children daily to Cordello Avenue Elementary School in Central Islip, giving them a face mask and a hug before dropping them off.

Rhonda Nedderman, the program coordinator for Youth Enrichment Services, or YES, said there was some initial anxiety among the children. The first week was “heavily focused” on talking about what COVID-19 is and how they can stay safe.

“We also made sure they know their mommy or daddy is working hard for us, and we’ll do the best we can do,” she said.

The program serves 40 students, ranging from kindergarten through sixth grade. It’s free and open to all children in the Central Islip School District. The program runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the children are provided with breakfast and lunch, plus laptops from the district to complete assignments, Nedderman said.

The children wash their hands every 45 minutes, wear masks and each have their own sets of books and crayons, Nedderman said. The staff of 12 talks to them frequently about the importance of social distancing. Many of the children often ask how long it’ll last.

“We keep telling them there is no timeline for this,” Nedderman said. “And we can’t answer that question, but we say we have to do our part in maintaining safety, [and] as long as we do our part in wearing our masks and staying 6 feet apart, we can help minimize the spread.”

The desks in each classroom are spread out, and the children get a full day of learning, music, art, physical education and recess. They do Zumba workouts, play instruments, embark on virtual museum tours and participate in a virtual story time with the district’s assistant superintendent.

“It’s been amazing that they’re so able to have some sense of normalcy,” Nedderman said.

Inevitably, moments of “the new normal” seep into everyday life. Nedderman said many of the students met each other for the first time through this program while wearing masks, and they don’t really know what their new friends look like until they see them get into their parents’ cars at the end of the day.

“We gave them an activity to draw what they look like without their mask,” she said. “Maybe they have a mole, a dimple, a gap in their teeth. The idea was, ‘This is me without a mask.’ ”

Although ordinary interactions have become so different with social distance, Nedderman said the program is “what you would envision a typical school day would look like, built in a fun way.”

“It’s good to be able to provide a service to the community, especially as a lot more people are now going back to work, and there’s a need,” she said.

Nedderman grew up in Central Islip, bought a house, and is raising her children here. Her daughter, Celina, is 8, and her son, Cainan, is 6. They attend the program every day — after all, their mother is an essential worker, too.

“It’s good for [the children] to not be at home and not to be fearful,” she said.

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