UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — Parents pleaded with the city on Sunday to expand its citywide remote learning center program to Roosevelt Island, where families have struggled to care for children attending class from home.
The city's Learning Bridges program, rolled out in September, is intended to allow parents to drop off their children at one of dozens of sites around the city on days when students are scheduled for remote learning, rather than in-person class.
Roosevelt Island, though, was not approved for a Learning Bridges site by the city's Department of Youth and Community Development — even though the applicant, the childcare center Island Kids, is "an institution" with a devoted following of families, according to City Councilmember Ben Kallos, who represents the island.
More than 100 families had responded to a survey from Island Kids, signaling interest in a remote learning site there, according to Nikki Leopold, the center's executive director.
Instead, the closest site to Roosevelt Island is the Vanderbilt YMCA in Midtown, a two-transfer subway ride away that is impractical for working parents who must face their own morning commutes, according to speakers at a Sunday rally over Zoom, who asked the city to add a Learning Bridges site on the island.
Kristin Bruan, a Roosevelt Island resident and public defender who works primarily from a courthouse in Kew Gardens, Queens, said the island's lack of a Learning Bridges center has been "nothing short of a nightmare for me, to say the least."
Parent Yair Antman and his child hold a sign during Sunday's Zoom rally for a Learning Bridges site on Roosvelt Island. (Office of City Councilmember Ben Kallos)
The Vanderbilt site is impractical, since it opens too late in the morning for Bruan to drop off her daughter and make it to the courthouse in time, she said.
Amy Rodriguez, a parent of two young children who works at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center along with her husband, teared up as she described the "stressful and tiresome" process of balancing work and childcare.
When her son, Justin, turned five recently, Rodriguez said his birthday wish was "that we can all be together as a family" after months of shifting schedules to accommodate childcare.
"I didn't realize that the nearly eight months of limited days of us being together was something that affected him, and that he thought about," she said.
Elected officials at Sunday's virtual rally included Kallos, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright, all of whom represent Roosevelt Island and said they would press the city to close the island's childcare gap.
Dayana Perez, a spokesperson for the DYCD, which administers the Learning Bridge sites, said in a statement that "We know how important child care is for working families in Roosevelt Island and across the City, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when school year plans have changed drastically for many households.
"New programs continue to open in all five boroughs to offer a free and safe location to support remote-learning and enrichment activities for DOE students enrolled in blended learning on the days when they are not in school. We will add seats and make offers available to more families throughout the fall," Perez said.
Despite its proximity to other boroughs, Roosevelt Island residents have often complained about similar gaps in basic services — most recently, about the lack of a single bank branch on the island.
"Unfortunately, our little island gets swallowed up in between the needs of Manhattan and Queens a little too often," Bruan said Sunday.