The pandemic hit student parents hard. With the transition to online schooling, a boom in Zoom fatigue, and a lack of financial and academic stability, many had to adjust to a new way of life.
“My school and the pandemic started at the same time, during spring 2020,” Heena Duggal writes in an email to College Avenue. “Daycare was not possible. Being at home all the time, taking care of the baby and family, along with my studies was mentally and physically exhausting.”
Duggal, a parent and graduate student at Colorado State University, was one of many student parents scrambling for childcare plans at the start of the pandemic. Though, as part of the CSU community, she had access to Ram Kidz Village.
Ram Kidz Village (RKV), located on the second floor of Morgan Library, was once a center for student parents to drop off their kids for two hours to study at the facility. As a program under CSU’s Adult Learner and Veteran Services (ALVS), the resource hub for most nontraditional students, RKV aimed to create support for student parents to academically succeed.
“I would say RKV is more than just a community. It is childcare, it is a resource, it is mental health support.” — Kyrie Craft, RKV manager
Before the pandemic, RKV accomplished this by providing in-person care and parents depended on these services to have undistracted time to finish deadlines. As COVID restrictions increased, RKV was left with two options: close their doors or restructure the program.
“It was like, okay, how are we going to go from interacting and playing with kids to a now completely remote environment?” says Molly Ranger, assistant manager of curriculum development at RKV. “And we actually started to push for activity kits.”
Activity kits are creative projects for kids that are assembled by RKV staff. Each kit delivery alternates between an educational to a creative focus. They have different options for age groups 1 to 4 years old, 5 to 8 and 9 to 11. For example, a previous bag for ages 1 to 4 contained a letter recognition game to increase English reading skills. For each educational bag, RKV staff aims to target the specific developmental goals of each household.
This idea to transition to at-home activity bags was created by RKV Manager Kyrie Craft.
“I worked at a summer camp last year where we provided an at-home camp for families,” Craft says. “After observing in that environment where we provided activity kits to go into homes, I wanted to provide something similar on campus. That’s where I had the idea to provide individual activity kits.”
After registering with the center, activity kits can be delivered or picked up by families.
As Craft worked with her supervisors to restructure RKV to an at-home program, she also pushed for more digital marketing to promote their services. As a result, RKV’s website and social media platforms underwent a complete transformation.
“Now, the primary ways parents can find us online are our Instagram and Facebook accounts,” Craft says. “Also, our website and connecting through ALVS is an easy way to find us because a lot of families reach services through ALVS as adult learners. But now, just searching Ram Kidz Village makes us pop up. We also created our own hashtag last semester on Instagram called #RamKidsCreate. It now has 100+ posts and Instagram acknowledges it as its own hashtag, so families can find us by searching that hashtag now.”
Through reformatting to a remote space, RKV partnered and collaborated with many different establishments to keep resources accessible.
For instance, RamRide delivers the activity bags to families off-campus. RKV also partners with Aggie Village, Little Shop of Physics, and Scholastic to maximize outreach for student parents. Craft says that with these new partnerships and remote services, the new formatted RKV works more efficiently than the pre-pandemic program.
“RKV has been a lifesaver.” — Kelsey Adams, parent
Before the pandemic, RKV saw constant engagement from five to six different student parents. Now, the program serves around 30 families.
Craft credited this rise in participation to their increased communication with these families.
“We communicate with family so much more than we ever did prior to the pandemic,” Craft says. “There was never anything on social media and now families received an email about once every week to two weeks max. They’re getting daily social media posts. They have my email and some families have a cell phone number if we like to communicate with them in that way. Consistency and ways parents can communicate with us have just blossomed this semester.”
Not only does this new program offer more outreach and accessibility to student parents, but there is a more educational focus in their activities.
“Before we were online, a lot of parents did not use us as a resource because … it was a little inconvenient for families because we had restrictions since we weren’t a full-blown daycare,” Ranger says. “But now since we went online, they now have the opportunity to do this stuff at home.
“We’re also making it more educational because before, RKV was just a fun place for kids to hang out. But now, these kids have this educational aspect and they’re actually learning while doing a fun activity.”
Alongside more educational resources for kids, these activity kits also provide an opportunity for quality time between the children and parents.
“The art activities have given my now 3-year-old the creative outlet she needed and has given me some peaceful time to either create and bond with her, or to give her independent time for me to get work done,” Victoria Beach, a student-parent at CSU, writes in an email to College Avenue. “Her excitement every week seeing those packages arrive is unparalleled and we could not be more grateful. As a non-creative person, it also got me more interested in painting and crafting.”
Ultimately, these activity bags have proven to be a great success, seen in the feedback from the community. Kelsey Adams, who’s husband is a CSU student, saw the success of these kits in her own home.
“RKV has been a lifesaver,” Adams writes in an email to College Avenue. “I have a busy toddler who loves to learn and create, but as a mother who also works part time, I quickly run out of cute and creative ideas to help her learn and have fun. RKV’s activity kits have given our family new crafts and ideas to do that I never would have thought of, and I am forever grateful.”
As CSU students look forward to a future of fewer restrictions, the format of RKV still remains a bit uncertain; however, RKV will continuously adapt and provide support to this underrepresented population.
“At the end of the day, our services will always be what parents need,” Craft says. “And so, whether that’s changing again next semester or not, it’s really about taking in parents’ feedback and being responsive to their needs so that we can create a learning experience meaningful to them.
“I would say RKV is more than just a community. It is childcare, it is a resource, it is mental health support.”