Newton nonprofits, businesses offer ‘strike’ programming for students

As the teachers’ strike continues, Newton organizations are getting creative to support students and families.

Though the strike could end at any moment, businesses and nonprofits across Newton have stretched and scrambled to offer programming for students while school is still out. From workshops at the West Newton Cinema to pay-what-you-can programs at the New Art Center Newton, the community is coming together to make diverse options available.

Residents have reported extra support at community religious institutions like Temple Emanuel and Temple Shalom. Parents have said their high schoolers are available for babysitting. Businesses like Exxcel Gymnastics and Climbing, Hipstitch, and Code Ninjas are offering camps and programs, while nonprofits like the Boys & Girls Club of Newton and Waban Library Center are making extra hours and staff available.

“We understand that families are looking for things to do and the Library always wants to be responsive to community needs,” Newton Free Library Director Jill Mercurio said. “One resident wrote to us yesterday, ‘THANK YOU to the library for providing activities today for kids/tweens/teens during the teachers’ strike. As a working parent, I am very grateful!’”

Libraries welcome all (as always)

It’s been a busy week at the Newton Free Library. According to Mercurio, over 1,859 people visited the library on Jan. 30, which even didn’t account for the extra foot traffic in the parking lot due to the rally across the street.

The library runs programming all the time – not just when teacher’s strike – and already had a lot of events on the calendar. Last week, though, they incorporated additional passive programming last week with games and activities in youth spaces.

“We needed to staff more people on the desk in our Children’s Rooms to help kids searching for books and asking questions,” Mercurio said. “In the Teen Room, we’ve been touched to see large groups diligently coming in to continue work on projects, practice their lines for their school plays, and wrap up college applications – in addition to hanging out, seeing their friends and enjoying the space.”

Attendance is up at programs, with over 70 people at a kids crafting program last week, and over 100 at the Bluey Blast program. The library has been adding additional programming, and sending out event emails to the newsletter list. Mercurio reported a big turnout for their drop in Lego Play event and Pokemon Club, too.

The Waban Library Center, an all-volunteer community library, decided to offer the Angier Elementary after-school program students a space for reading and games. They also opened on Monday, a day they are normally closed.

“It is a safe, warm and educational environment,” said Volunteer Director Alice Jacobs. “We are happy to offer our library to all Newton students who are kept out of school during the strike. …If the strike continues beyond this second week we will continue to offer special programs for students and their caregivers. We believe this is part of the mission of our library and of all libraries.”

Arts and movement organizations step up

Hipstitch, a sewing lounge and design school in Newton, started offering camps the first day of the strike. Owner Nicola Day is also a parent and has a high schooler in the district, so the week before they had been anticipating the strike. That first Friday wasn’t too busy, but they’ve had a waitlist every day since.

“We pulled our staff from our other locations all to be in Newton so we could accommodate a lot of kids,” she said. “I’m here sewing and helping too, though I’m usually doing more background stuff.

Day acknowledged their programming is expensive at $200 a day for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but noted the skilled instruction and many tools and materials needed for the experience. When she realized the strike would continue into this week, she decided to offer 50% off all camps to hopefully make it accessible to more families.

“It’s a bittersweet thing, because we are helping the community but we have to make money,” she said. “We are pivoting to pull all these staff…and staying late prepping the space for all the kids, and we’re doing it all on the fly, waiting for the announcement each night.”

Thanks to their sponsors, the New Art Center of Newton was able to allocate funds from their restricted scholarship account to support a pay-what-you-can initiative.

“With such an unexpected closure of schools, parents did not have time to plan for childcare during the day,” said Executive Director Emily O’Neil. “This scarcity of childcare has created stress for parents, and we have received dozens of emails and calls looking for a place to bring their students.”

For the “strike” program the New Art Center is staying as flexible as possible, offering a pay-what-you-can option that includes half-day, full day and extended day options. So far, the center has been able to support 115 students and 184 enrollments in the available space.

“[Education Coordinator] Sarah has lost count of how many times we have heard words of gratitude from parents and families of K-5 students,” O’Neil said. Parents are happy to know they have a trusted organization watching after their children, where they know they will be safe, happy, and have an opportunity to connect with other students.”

At The Conservatory at Highlands, 10 to 12 kids a day have joined music sessions. Conservatory President Dave Carroll said they do this kind of programming in the summer, but decided to pivot and offer some now.

“We wanted to provide some opportunities for the kids to have some music learning and some structure during their day to help out parents in the community, and fill it with some musical fun,” he said. “It’s been a great response.”

Rapidly-organized gymnastics camps at Exxcel Gymnastics and Climbing have sold out within an hour. About 200 children have enrolled in their strike programming.

“We were scrambling to get the staff to accommodate this, but we knew there was a need for it,” said Office Manager Kimberlee Caneja. “Last week we opened registration for the full week…and yesterday we opened it for the rest of the week. We’re just not sure if there’s an end in sight.”