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Fulton County Coalition forms to render aid to families

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. — A coalition of cities, the county, businesses and charities are working with Fulton County Schools to develop an aid system for children and parents affected by the shutdown of classrooms this term.

Fulton County Schools announced late last month that it was scrapping plans to offer students a choice of online or in-person instruction. The district said it would provide remote learning only, at least through Labor Day.

The decision was a curve ball for those families without teleworking options.

Alpharetta Assistant City Administrator James Drinkard said the coalition is barely two weeks old, but it has already mapped out plans to fill gaps because of the school system’s decision.

He said members of the City Council challenged city staff last spring to explore ways they could support local families with education assistance.

Part of that effort came to fruition Aug. 10 when the city signed an agreement with the Ed Isakson YMCA to provide a virtual learning site for school-aged children in the local community. Overall, the partnership will service about 250 children at three sites, the City of Alpharetta Adult Activity Center at North Park, Alpharetta Arts Center and Preston Ridge Community Center at the Y.

The YMCA is also partnering with other metro cities and agencies to operate similar sites.

Beginning Aug. 24, the Alpharetta YMCA will host children from K-6th grade. The city will host a micro-learning center for up to 50 kids in the 7th and 8th grade at the Community Activity Center.

The Alpharetta Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department has also developed programs for a “virtual after-school.”

Department Director Morgan Rodgers said the programming will be offered in the afternoon. Another program is called “After School Fun Stop,” available for parents to drop off K-6 children off at 2:30 and pick them up by 6:30. Dance and gymnastics programs are also being offered.

The agreement also states that cleaning and safety protocols will be in place at all facilities. It also provides for a charge of $39 per day, per child.

Drinkard also told the council of another, broader initiative aimed at aiding children and parents. At the council’s urging, he said, city staff began contacting area cities, businesses, nonprofits and schools to devise a plan that would render assistance where it is needed most.

Drinkard said the initiative is not just aimed at working parents but will assist vulnerable students as well.

“For the vulnerable students, oftentimes the schools are their safe place,” Drinkard said. “That’s where they may get their only meal. We don’t think bout North Fulton that way, but it’s here. It may be the only place that they get their daily bath or shower. It may be the only place where they receive positive reinforcement.”

Meetings among city and school officials and business leaders began barely two weeks ago, Drinkard said, and already major progress has been made. Three days after the first meeting, Comcast stepped up to help fill in any gaps in internet service.

United Way has also developed a special website focused on North Fulton to provide a complete catalog of the services being offered. Drinkard said the website should be up and running in the coming days. Meanwhile, he said, information will be posted on the city’s website,

Drinkard emphasized the initiative is being set up to address the current crisis but with a vision for long-term service. The need in the community will continue to some extent even after COVID subsides, he said.

Councilman Jason Binder said that while the students’ and parents’ needs are being addressed, the coalition might want to look at support services for some of the area’s senior residents.

“There’s just a lot of isolation going on, and I’m glad that you all are responding,” Binder said.

Mayor Jim Gilvin said he was overwhelmed by the progress the coalition has made in a short time.

“I had no idea some of this had even occurred, because it’s happened since the last time I talked to you all four days ago,” he said. “It’s remarkable to watch this community come together when challenged.”

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