DOE Opens REC Care for Essential Workers

By Melanie Correa

Now that New York City schools are closed, many essential workers who are parents and guardians are left without childcare. As a result, the New York Department of Education opened up Regional Enrichment Centers (REC) throughout the five boroughs to provide childcare for these workers.

The REC centers are staffed with DOE employees who volunteer and with partners from community organizations. Ms. Lopez, a supervising administrator from a Bronx REC Center, is one of them. She explains that the staff observe strict guidelines.

“The hand washing procedure and making sure we all keep our social distancing is mandatory and enforced daily,” said Lopez.

The REC center located in the Rose Hill area of the Bronx opened on March 23, in the middle of the pandemic, serving children from infancy through fifth grade. Aside from the remote learning opportunities, the centers also provide children with daily hot meals.

As of April 27, The Bronx’s count of positive COVID-19 cases was approximately 35,398, making it third highest behind Queens (48,382) and Brooklyn (41,327), according to daily updates by the New York State Department of Health. On April 16, Governor Andrew Cuomo extended the “pause” of the city until May 15.

“We opened these REC centers across the city not specifically to meet the needs of a community, but the city in general,” said Lopez. “Initially we offered care to the children of first responders, but as the situation with the pandemic declined, the city looked into the need for other workers in the field and added more to the list.”

Regional Enrichment Centers are open to children who are New York City residents and whose parents or guardians are in deemed essential workers. All social distancing protocols are followed at the REC centers, including maintaining six feet of distance between people, limiting classroom to fewer than nine students, regular cleaning and disinfecting all sites. REC staff advise anyone who is feeling sick to stay home.

“We encourage parents to keep children home if they are experiencing symptoms or are sick, said Lopez. “Our priority is to keep them safe, and to prevent a wider spread.” She has been volunteering at the location since its opening.

“During this crisis, it’s important to put your own fears and doubts aside to help others — especially those putting themselves at risk every single day,” said Lopez.

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