In a distance education environment brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, parents of school-aged children face difficult choices if they have to leave home to go to work.

Should they quit their jobs? Should they leave their children alone? Seek help from a neighbor or relative? Spending some of your hard-earned money on a babysitter who will probably also have to fill the role of tutor or de facto teacher?

Recognizing the challenges that working parents face in the COVID-19 era, the State Employees Credit Union has come up with a solution for its employees: bring your kids to work – not just on Take Your Kid to Work Day.

The credit union, which has eight branches, including two in Santa Fe, has set up classrooms, or what it calls education labs, at each location and each has a tutor or teacher. ‘an instructor to supervise the children of employees as they learn through online platforms and their parents do their jobs.

“We have an employee who has five children – there is no way she could have kept her job and taking care of her children,” said Deborah Sparks, director of human resources at the credit union. .

News of the credit union’s education labs has leaked into the community, generating inquiries about whether others can send their children there as well, which Sparks says shows the need for child care when students move away. engage in distance learning.

“We have these parents, often single parents, who don’t know what they’re going to do,” she said. “They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They need to educate their children, but they also need a job to feed their children. I just don’t know what they’re going to do.

Kate Noble, president of the Santa Fe school board, said it was one of the issues that kept her awake at night.

“Working families are in a world of suffering right now,” she said.

Superintendent Veronica García called the credit union program “very creative” and “a great idea.”

“I take my hat off to any corporate partner who does their best to make sure children are not left at home unattended,” she said. “I hope that if we can all work together we can make sure all of our children are well taken care of.”

Sparks said the credit union leadership team, including Harold Dixon, president and CEO, began planning a few months ago how to help employees who have children after school resumes.

“We realized we were going to have problems because the staff had to stay home, look after their children – how were we going to serve our members? Sparks said. “With 160 employees, we knew this was going to impact us.

When the credit union pitched the idea of ​​a children’s education lab to its employees, the response was immediate, Sparks said.

“We have started to receive responses from all offices,” she said.

In an email, Dixon said the credit union sees the need to help its employees as the possibility of virtual classrooms becomes more real.

“Some may wonder why we took this route when we didn’t have to,” he wrote. “I would respond by saying it’s just another way to help each other mitigate current events by coming together and offering support when and if we can. Our employees are grateful and the children can continue their education in a safe and supervised manner. “

Thirty-two children are currently enrolled.

Among them is Jayda Benavidez, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Pecos College. Her mother, Leann Quiroz, said it was a blessing for her daughter to learn from her workplace.

With the family living 40 miles from Santa Fe, “when they call and say,“ Mom, my computer has crashed, ”it’s much harder for me to figure out how to fix the problem over the phone,” Quiroz said.

Having an education room on site “is very convenient and useful,” she said. “I am so grateful that they provide this to our children.”

When asked about the cost of the program, Sparks said the credit union didn’t know exactly.

“We really didn’t put a dollar in there,” she said. “It can get expensive, but the benefits we see for our people are immeasurable. “

Employee Christine Anaya, whose 11-year-old daughter Taylor Hewlett, a sixth-grader at Piñon Elementary School, participates in the program, said one of the best things for children to learn on her workplace is “to be able to register on them.”

Anaya said her favorite part of the day is lunch because she spends it with Taylor.

“It is not often that a [working] the parent can have lunch with their child. It’s nice to get to know your child on a different level, ”she said.

“For me it has been a strange blessing,” she added.

The program was also designed with the approximately 48,000 members of the credit union in mind.

“We have members all over the state of New Mexico who still need access to their banking needs, and financial institutions are still one of those critical places where we must continue to facilitate the needs of our members. and their access to their money and loans and the support they need in these uncertain times, ”said Kyle Moore, vice president of member experience.

“Parents are obviously in this very awkward situation where we have to balance work life like we’ve never had to do before, and kids have to balance how they’re going to absorb education like they never really have. had to do this before, “Moore added.

Sparks said the credit union was taking “every precaution” from social distancing to wearing face masks.

“We have the hand sanitizer and everything,” she said. “It works very, very well.

City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler, vice-chair of the credit union’s board of directors, gave the company “a big thumbs up” at Wednesday’s board meeting.

“The people I talked to about this got really goosebumps,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful business decision that deals with COVID and helps employees at the same time.”

Sparks said the credit union will continue the program for as long as necessary.

“We have a motto here at the credit union: ‘I support you’, and I think it exemplifies that motto,” she said. “We have the backs of our employees. We have always believed that if you take good care of the employees, they will take good care of you and our members. That’s all we can ask for. I think more employers – if they are able to do things like this or think outside the box – it can only benefit the company. “

Editor Olivia Harlow contributed to this report.

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