Regardless of where you come down on the issue, the Oklahoma teacher walkouts have left working parents trying to come up with solutions for what to do with their kids now for almost two weeks.
“It’s been very stressful,” said parent Lindsay Seal. “It is kind of hard to plan because you don’t know one day to the next.”
Seal says she’s been getting updates from her son’s Jackson’s school in the form of a message on an app his teachers use. But the updates on whether school will remain closed for the next day don’t usually come until the night before.
“We’ve had babysitters; we’ve hung out with grandparents,” Seal said, adding that it’s been tricky finding a place where her son Jackson can have fun and learn at the same time.
Her solution for two days this week: the zoo.
The Oklahoma City Zoo has traditionally operated day camps during summer months or on those certain school holidays when working parents don’t always have the day off. Deciding to run it during the walkout was a no-brainer for Amy Stephens, who is the zoo’s education supervisor.
“We immediately knew there was a need,” Stephens said. “We had to pull the staffing together of course. But we have some wonderful people that worked our summer camp programs and out day camps throughout the year, and so they just jumped in.”
Stephens says they have a different theme every day. On the day we stopped by, elementary students were learning about reptiles and getting to touch a blue-tongued skink, a type of lizard.
“We are very education-driven, so we have a different theme every day,” Stephens said. “It might be meerkats or owls, or birds in general.”
Signing up for a day at the zoo is $45 for the day. But it’s far from the only education-focused option parents have.
Science Museum Oklahoma has also been doing day-long camps for students at a similar price where kids can learn about the basics of chemistry, the solar system, even prehistoric fossils.
For a cheaper option, parents can utilize the Boys and Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County for five dollars a day. Typically focused on after-school programming, the clubs have been open each day of the walkouts starting first thing in the morning.
“We’re doing a lot of academic work knowing that when they get back to school they’re likely to have to do their state testing,” said Jane Sutter, CEO and president of Boys and Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County. “So we don’t want them to get rusty on those things.”
Club staff have even been given lesson plans from some of the public schools.
“Obviously it’s not a full day of school. They’re missing opportunity, and we’re sad about that,” Sutter said. “But we want to make this the best experience we possibly can for them.”
Fourth and fifth graders at the clubs were playing U.S. geography trivia when we stopped in, while older students were learning about math through a web-based program called Prodigy.
The city’s public schools system has also been sending out buses to various locations, including the Boys and Girls Clubs, and handing out sack lunches so the out of school kids that normally rely on the free school lunches won’t go hungry.
Representatives at both the zoo and the Boys and Girls Clubs tell us they’ll continue their programs for as long as teachers remain out of the classrooms.
The parents we spoke to admit that having to keep their kids occupied while they're at work is an inconvenience but told us that if it means a better education for their kids in the long run, it's a small sacrifice they're willing to make.