by Aria Wilson As students gear up for colder weather since going back to school, Launch commends school districts on working diligently to re-engage students in the classroom this fall. Launch has been a Youth Development Executives of King County (YDEKC) Member organization since its inception in 2011, and for four decades, they have been dedicated to serving children of all backgrounds in the greater Seattle area. Their programs support a child’s social, emotional, and educational development — leading to brilliant outcomes. At present, there are twelve locations run by trained and caring staff who provide research-based, enriching activities for preschool and school-age children.
Launch, formerly Community Day School Association, has a mission to “lead the charge to brilliant outcomes for the children of our community by ensuring equitable access to the highest quality learning and care.” They offer year-round kindergarten readiness Preschool Program for children ages 3-5; a School Age Program that includes remote learning support, virtual field trips, enrichment activities, and outdoor play; and nine weeks of Summer Programs for children ages 3–12, with weekly themes and flexible enrollment in the greater Seattle area. Launch’s collaboration with Seattle Public Schools allows staff to communicate and partner with teachers, building on and complementing school-day learning. When COVID-19 hit, they quickly shifted their before-and-afterschool programming to full-day care, prioritizing free care to essential workers.
Angela Griffin, Chief Executive Officer of Launch and YDEKC Advisory Board Co-Chair, shares that, “Since there are still many unknowns with the multiple new variants of COVID-19, I am hopeful we do not need to send children back into remote learning, which could be avoided if schools continue diligently following health and safety protocols.” In August, the Washington State Department of Health updated their K-12 COVID-19 Requirements for Summer 2021 and the 2021-2022 School Year (PDF). While many decisions are made at a local level for each school district, all districts in Washington are currently required to provide in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year.
Within the past year, when the pandemic hit, Launch stayed open to provide child care for essential workers and was able to minimize the loss of employees and furloughs. In late March of 2020, Launch was able to reopen five of their sites to provide emergency care for children of essential workers for free through June of 2020, in partnership with the City of Seattle. Launch also partnered with Seattle Children’s Hospital to offer vital child care services to their frontline workforce during spring 2020.
As one Launch parent shared, “I am so grateful to have Launch Emergency Care for my children. Knowing that they’re being cared for by loving staff is beyond reassuring while working as a healthcare provider during this pandemic. Launch is not just a place that has taken care of my kids during this time – the Launch staff have continued my kids’ academic education, nurtured their passions for social justice, and provided enriching and fun activities.”
Launch was also able to increase their staff’s wages that worked directly with families and children that were at risk for contracting COVID-19. Before schools fully returned to in-person instruction in the fall of 2021, over sixty percent of their students that were enrolled were the children of essential workers.
When addressing the urgency of supporting children and families who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), Angela stated, “It’s important to be intentional about the people that we support because so many of our systems have been designed for the successful outcome of white children, and if we are true to our missions, we need to be sure of how we’re centering our BIPOC youth in our planning, who we bring in as members, who has access to resources, and we need to be able to hear the stories and experiences of BIPOC children, and youth and families to inform such systems that have historically oppressed them.”
Launch operates on a lean budget, and any expenses that don’t go directly towards a program help them increase their awareness of racial equity in the services that they offer. One of the biggest challenges that Launch has faced since the pandemic, has been getting funders to understand the essentialness of their work. Through YDEKC’s advocacy and support, Launch can create the necessary awareness to attract funders by conveying the significance of racial equity in youth and child development programs. Without child care, essential workers can’t do their jobs. Traditionally, funders have “backed away” from funding child care programs due to facilities relying on tuition from parents and the Department of Children, Youth and Families. However, the pandemic has led to staff turnover in child care being at an all-time high, and now is the time to give family and child service workers the wages they deserve.
Launch’s opportunity with YDEKC is one that can show the public and advocates in the field of youth development who the BIPOC-led and serving organizations are in King County. As an Advisory Board Member of YDEKC, Angela states, “My hope over the next year is that YDEKC increases its engagement with its members and that we take advantage of the diversity that our members provide and share leadership across sectors for the youth that we serve.” Over the last year, Angela has been able to shift her role as a co-chair on the board to help establish YDEKC’s board governance structure to expand engagement with members.
Launch looks forward to continuing its strong partnership with YDEKC and Seattle Public Schools through early learning and school-age child care programs to help schools address COVID-19 learning loss and continue to build the social-emotional learning skills of students.