Johnson County ‘Neighborhood NESTS’ program expanding to help with childcare needs

Published: Jan. 8, 2021 at 12:08 AM CST
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - An Iowa City-area program launched last fall to ensure gaps in education don’t become exacerbated this year, with so much learning online, is now expanding.

The Neighborhood NESTS program — NESTS standing for “nurturing every student together safely” — is connecting families with younger students in the Iowa City Community School District to childcare.

“We, with city and county funding, as well as private donations and support from other service groups, have been able to, in each of our municipalities, come up with funding to provide scholarships to families to connect them to childcare programs that are struggling to be full,” NESTS Co-Chair Missie Forbes said.

Forbes said families interested in receiving scholarships can reach out to her via email or through the Neighborhood NESTS Facebook page.

The program began as a series of mini-hubs around Johnson County, spaces where students could go during the day to do schoolwork and activities in a safe and supervised space.

Forbes said each NEST is unique and tailored to best fit the community it serves and that community’s needs.

One NEST is located at Open Heartland, an organization that works with members of Iowa City’s Latino community.

Joshua Hurtado, a junior at West High School participating in remote learning this year, goes to the Open Heartland NEST every day with his younger siblings.

“I cannot imagine myself staying at home 24/7. I don’t know — I guess I’d be grumpy. So I’m pretty happy that this place exists because people come here, have fun,” he said.

Hurtado said he appreciates the socially distanced and sanitized setting still allows him to interact with other students when he can’t be in the classroom.

“I help other students when they need to, so I’ll just come up to them, and be like, ‘Hey, do you need some help with this?’” he said.

Dennis Diaz Castillo, a fourth grader at Alexander Elementary School, is learning through the hybrid model this year, so he attends class in person at Alexander a few days a week and then learns virtually the rest of the week at the Open Heartland NEST, a place he appreciates for a simple reason.

“There’s paper here that I can use,” he said, pointing out detailed sketches he has drawn throughout the year that line the building’s wall.

Forbes said they plan to keep NESTS open through the end of the school year and will look to keep them going in some form when students fully return to the classroom.

“I think that COVID really pulled the curtain back in education and other things that are just systematically — put people at an unfair advantage. So our hope is that we can continue this, even as we get back to normal,” she said.

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