Mankato, Minnesota (population 40,841), is a regional hub for health care, education, and retail services. The median household income is $45,621 and the median age is 26. The city has won several livability awards and is known for its parks, trails, rivers, and natural beauty.
As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused schools to shift to virtual or hybrid education, Mankato reached out to its nonprofit partners to identify ways they could support their essential employees who could not stay home to care for their young children or supervise their child’s distance learning. One of those nonprofit partners, the Mayo Clinic Health System, was also concerned about how to support its health care workers who faced increasing workloads and stress on the job.
Another nonprofit partner, Minnesota State University, Mankato, had education students who needed to get classroom hours of experience. The local YMCA had substantial experience working with the school district on after-school programs, but was facing significant financial pressures due to the cancellation of in-person programs. After considerable conversation, which influenced initial ideas, the partners came up with several ways to leverage their assets and experience to support their essential employees.
Virtual School Support at the YMCA
The YMCA has existing and new programming, as well as appropriate space to provide learning pods for virtual K-6 school support. Mankato provided a $20,000 CARES Act sustaining grant to the YMCA to offer learning pods staffed by aides who help children with virtual school support during distance learning phases. This provided ongoing support to assure employment for aides despite the ebb and flow of distance learning models, making sure the children log on, check on their list of assignments, and alert the teacher if there is a the need to get back to a child who has questions. Should additional learning pod space be needed, Mankato is prepared to offer its event center.
The YMCA agreed to prioritize enrollment of the children of Tier 1 employees (health workers, public works, police and fire, and utility workers). In the winter months, snowplow drivers are at the top of the list of essential workers. Health workers can’t get to their jobs if the roads are not clear. Another challenge is that most city employees come from dual career households and many are public service couples. That means there is little flexibility at home to support virtual school and childcare needs. Five city employees have expressed interest and more are still able to access the virtual school support program if distance learning persists, with the city contributing 60 percent of the costs and the employee contributing 40 percent of the costs.
Piloting an On-Line Study Center
Mankato partnered with the Mankato Area Public Schools (MAPS), the Greater Mankato United Way, and the Mayo Clinic Health System to provide free on-line tutoring and study help to all MAPS students in grades 6-12. The pilot program costs $13,500 and is funded by an $8,000 CARES Act grant from Mankato, with the remainder provided by the United Way and the Mayo Clinic.
On-Line Tutoring for Employees
After seeing the benefits of an on-line tutoring program for middle and high school students, Mankato purchased 500 hours of tutoring for its employee population. Employees can access the website tutor.com for help in assisting their children in learning, having their own papers reviewed for degree programs, or getting feedback and guidance on how to prepare their self-evaluation for performance reviews.