Local non-profit rallying around RPS teachers and parents offering free child care program next week

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Public School students will be out of school all next week to give teaching and staff a mental health break. The district’s sudden change is leaving some parents scrambling to find child care, but there is one unique option for those in need.

For some parents, especially single parents, juggling the work home-life balance has been even more challenging in the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are left with the decision to clock in or stay home and with two unexpected days off from school next week, one local non-profit organization is stepping up to help.
Nearly three months into the new school year and RPS teachers say they are exhausted by the workload.

“There is just like such a staff shortage that the people that are there are just being worked to death,” said Anne Forrester, an RPS teacher told 8News earlier this month.

Superintendent Jason Kamras is listening to teachers and staff who have voiced their concerns. Last week he released a video message addressing numerous this, including the mental health of employees.

“Many have shared that they’re on the brink of burning out and even leaving and it’s only October,” Kamras said in the video.

In the video, Kamras announced that teachers and staff will now get this upcoming Monday, Nov. 1, and Wednesday, Nov.3, off for a mental health break. RPS students were already off Tuesday for Election Day, Thursday for Diwali, and Friday for parent conferences. The calendar shake-up now puts students out of school for the entire week and some parents are stretched thin on child care options with little notice.
Kamras addressed the late change in the video.

“I truly apologize for the inconvenience it will cause,” Kamras said. “After careful consideration I made this decision because I think it’s essential.”

Celebrate RVA, a local non-profit in the city’s East End, fully supports the district’s decision and is helping support parents, students, and RPS teachers and staff.

Celebrate RVA got its start in 2013 and helps disadvantaged children celebrate their birthdays. Julia Mattingly, the Executive Director, says she was shocked when tutoring a child and asked for their birthday and the child did not know. Her passion and drive to help kids be kids led to the creation of her non-profit.

The organization now has a community center on Oliver Hill Way and was set to open its doors last year, but the pandemic hit and shut everything down. Since birthday parties are not conducive to social distancing, Mattingly, staff and volunteers ran a facilitated learning center to assist children with virtual learning. They did all this while operating a birthday bag delivery program and still do. The program is basically a birthday party on the go. Mattingly and her staff deliver all the essential items to make a child’s birthday party and deliver at doorsteps to those in need.

“We definitely hear the desperate need for childcare,” Mattingly told 8News.

When learning about RPS’s decision to close school for two additional days, Mattingly quickly organized ‘Joy Week’. She is especially opening the community center doors next week to help lighten the load for parents while giving teachers a much-needed break.

“I don’t think you can understand the impact and the struggle unless you’re in a classroom like our hardworking teachers are all the time,” Mattingly explained. “Hopefully this gives them time and space to clear their minds so they can be fully present to our students.”

Joy Week is free and runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day next week It offers children breakfast and lunch, educational programs, and fun activities. Some of those include physical fitness routines, board games, art projects, music classes, and more. It is only for Pre-K to fifth-grade students and priority is being given to single-parent households.

“If we can take that burden off of teachers and staff for just one week, that is something we are happy to do,” Mattingly said.

You can register your child for Joy Week here. If you’re interested in volunteering food services, click here.

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