How Gyms’ Childcare Programs Support Hybrid School Schedules

Gyms across the U.S. are making an impact in their communities and to their bottom line by adapting childcare services to support schools and families struggling due to COVID-19-related changes.

School is back in session and—along with everything else—it looks different this year. As COVID-19 changes how we socialize and work, it is also changing how children learn and interact. Many schools are adopting fully remote learning or hybrid models designed to minimize the number of students present in the classroom at one time. Nobody knows what the future will hold, especially with holidays and the possibility of increased travel and transmission looming ahead.

The community aspect of health clubs has always been a core strength, and clubs are stepping up to help solve the issue of childcare and supplemental education during the pandemic. Not only do these childcare programs help alleviate a critical issue in communities, but it also helps create additional revenue for clubs. Remote and hybrid school models have left many parents scrambling to find a solution for reduced school hours and many health clubs are uniquely positioned to adapt and provide the solutions families desperately need.

Wellness Boy on Laptop Virtual School Column jpg

Camps & After School Programs

Longfellow Health Clubs, with locations in Wayland and Natick, MA, have offered summer camps for children in the greater Boston area for over 35 years, growing into one of New England’s largest day camps. Longfellow was able to run camp programs this summer, a great success in itself during the pandemic.

Karen Mahoney, the children’s programs director at the Wayland location, attributes this to the adoption of strict hygiene protocols and the importance of an open dialogue for collaboration with parents.

“We made sure to have a training process in place, as it is a learning curve for everyone,” she says. “In addition to mask wearing, the facilities are cleaned extensively every evening, and there are strict daily health screening questionnaires. All staff were required to be tested before returning to work. Parents receive constant emails to keep them abreast of any updates and we are always looking for feedback to improve efficiency and safety.”

Children are broken up into small cohorts with no more than 13 members, and all activities are done within the group. Coaches have also adapted by turning to activities that have less contact and provide more distance.

Mahoney also stresses the importance of adapting to your community’s needs and accommodating families on a personal basis when possible. Due to high demand, Longfellow has extended their camp programs into the school year, adding more educational programming such as an assisted guided learning center and homeschool pods. The programs include children from four different area towns with the option for full days, or exercise focused programming starting at 2 p.m. Breaks include time with coaches to add fun and encourage an active lifestyle.

“As school started back up in September, we took cues from parents on what is needed in terms of school help. We are stressing flexibility and having commitments of just one month at a time. We don’t want parents to feel trapped with everything being so fluid right now,” Mahoney says.

“As school started back up in September, we took cues from parents on what is needed in terms of school help. We are stressing flexibility and having commitments of just one month at a time. We don’t want parents to feel trapped with everything being so fluid right now.”

Karen Mahoney, Children’s Programs Director

Longfellow Health Clubs - Wayland, MA

The Adirondack Club, located in Franklin, MA, also successfully ran camp programs this summer. The adherence to strict guidelines established by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, such as temperature checks, has led to no outbreaks or attributed COVID-19 cases at the club. The club already offers an extensive after school program that partners with local school districts, which has expanded this year, with a focus on facilitating more educational content and online learning. The Franklin school system is currently fully remote, making this service critical for parents in the area.

The Adirondack Club’s expanded offerings include after school programs, remote learning programming, and pre-school. The programs run in various classrooms on the club campus, making it the ideal environment for virtual learning while adhering to social distancing guidelines. The fact that the club already offered extensive programs has made the expansion of services easier logistically. The programs are staffed mostly by existing teachers on staff, supplemented by college-aged tutors. The programs are offered to members first, but are also available to non-members if space is still available.

Samantha Miller, director of children’s service and summer camps at the Adirondack Club, stresses that staff commitment is crucial for providing a safe environment.

“Staff buy-in is one of the most important details that can sometimes be overlooked,” she says. “They are the role models at these programs, and kids notice if they are not enthusiastic about wearing a mask or washing hands regularly.”

Just as an employee would be recognized for exemplary work performance, it is important to acknowledge the effort staff make to follow and encourage safety regulations put forth by health authorities.

Adding a dash of fun or competition to the equation often does wonders for compliance, says Miller. “We have started to add little competitions and prizes to encourage mask wearing, such as a reward for the child that wore their mask the most on a particular day. We have found it made a difference in making a difficult task a bit more fun and exciting.”

Miller also highlighted an important lesson learned: patience. “The expanded programs have been going very well, but we have noticed the importance of asking for patience from parents as the kids adapt and settle into new routines. A new learning experience can be a bit of a shock and it sometimes takes some time to adjust to different schedules and environments.”

Wellness Girl in Mask Reading Column

Collaboration with Education

The Bay Club, which operates 24 clubs across nine different campuses in California and Oregon, has recognized the need for combining next generation learning solutions with fitness and wellness programs. In August, they announced a partnership with KinderCare Education, the nation’s largest private provider of early childhood and school-age education.

“By combining our Champions school-age education programs with The Bay Club’s leadership in active lifestyle programming and their world-class sports facilities, we’ll give families peace of mind by providing their children with a safe learning environment that supports their children’s academic, social, and physical development,” says Tom Wyatt, CEO of KinderCare Education, in a press release.

Children are broken into learning pods of no more than 12, and will remain with the same teacher and pod for the duration of the school day. Teachers lead students through online learning classes, while Bay Club instructors provide a wide variety of active lifestyle programming.

The Bay Club is also offering a scholarship program to assist families in the area, as noted in the release by President and CEO Matthew Stevens, who said, “In an effort to be a part of the solution in creating education equality for the children in our communities and as a way to close the digital divide, we are proud to announce a new Scholarship Program through Bay Club Cares. These scholarships will be offered at each of the properties featuring the program.”

Mirroring Clubs’ Values & Mission

Not only does extended childcare and educational programs provide a critical service and additional revenue, it is also a great opportunity to show the local community the strength of a club’s values and mission to promote a healthier lifestyle. With many youth sports and activities cancelled or operating at a reduced capacity, and the proliferation of online learning, it can be hard for some children to stay physically active.

While it may not be feasible for all clubs, it is well worth reaching out to local education organizations and school districts to see if collaboration is viable. Health clubs offering hybrid programs help to promote healthier, happier communities and build goodwill from parents.

Mahoney explains that “why”—and not just “how”—is important when creating or expanding programs.

“Our goal is to make sure that the families that are in our communities are getting social time for our children and we want to be a safe space to provide that. No one wants to feel like they are alone,” she says. “We want to be that connection for families and help children grow and that's what we are all about.”

Related Articles & Publications

Author avatar

Luke Ablondi

Luke Ablondi is IHRSA's Trade Show Logistics Manager. He handles exhibitor communications, materials, and logistics for the IHRSA Trade Show. In his free time, Luke enjoys playing guitar, lifting weights, and following sports obsessively.