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Three Organizations Unite to Bring Babysitting Academy to Area Youth

The Sauk Valley region has had a long 2020 given how the Coronavirus pandemic has affected families’ lives with young children. During the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown in mid March, most parents and kids were at home. Once restrictions lightened up, employers were either calling parents back to work or asking them to keep working remotely. In the meantime, parents needed daycare or babysitters to watch over their children who were in school part-time.

Three area organizations saw this need and decided to act on it together. Dixon Public Schools, KSB Hospital, and the Lee County Health Department joined forces to launch the Babysitting Academy for youth between the ages of 12 and18.

Kelly Hildebrand, the KSB Wellness Coordinator for Corporate Health Services, had envisioned a babysitting education program for nearly five years. In the past, the YMCA and Red Cross offered these services, but just recently, the area did not have any kind of program. As the pandemic continued into the beginning of the school year, the need for babysitters trained to watch over their siblings, neighbors, and friends’ children became necessary.

Dixon Public Schools Board President, Linda Wegner, seeing the plight of parents and guardians, reached out to Nancy Varga, Director of Community Wellness, Marketing & Public Relations, and Hildebrand around mid-August. 

“I reached out to Nancy and Kelly at KSB. Kelly had great ideas and was excited to put her idea into action. We see it as a win-win during this time when school is not totally in-person,” said Wegner.

The first Babysitting Academy session was held on Sept. 26. Because this one-day class sold out immediately, KSB began a waitlist. Due to this success, more class sessions are now available. They currently occur once a month but for 2021, they will be offered on a quarterly basis. The program runs through Oct. 9, 2021. 

“We are ensuring safety and proper social distancing by keeping the class size limited to 12 participants. The class has six students per classroom at least six feet apart,” mentions Varga.

The class is designed to prepare youth who plan to babysit with the essential skills and knowledge necessary to responsibly and safely care for infants and children. Participants learn every aspect of childcare from infants to grade-schoolers. Each class participant receives a lifesize baby doll to learn infant care such as dressing, undressing, bottle feeding, diaper changing, and bathing. Instructors  prepare a fictitious checklist about each of their children to give to the “babysitter.”  This list includes things such as parent details, home information, child information, allergies and medical conditions. Other topics the instructors cover are cooking, CPR and first aid, age-appropriate fun, using the school system’s Homework Helper/Seesaw programs, and emergency medical services. 

That’s a long list. It requires a collaboration of community members to develop and provide this information. Personnel from KSB, the Lee County Health Department (LCHD), and Dixon Public Schools (DPS) contribute to the varied aspects of child care and safety. 

DPS provides help with Homework Helper and instruction on dealing with children they are watching. Sometimes kids get grumpy or disagreeable, and having a way to deal with it is a valuable tool.

Hildebrand remarks, “This is what makes the program special. We know there’s a need, and we want to help give our kids the tools to help the children they’re watching.”

One of the most well-received activities to date are the cooking classes given by Linda Setchell, KSB Director of Dietary. Providing a tasty and healthy snack will be no problem for these participants. 

Deb Gortowski, a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP), provides sessions on first aid and use of inhalers, nebulizers, and epi-pens. 

Doug Sears, KSB EMS, teaches the emergency preparedness portion of the curriculum. He instructs them on how to handle specific emergencies such as power outages and infant and child CPR. These tools will give every parent peace of mind.

Courtney Gaulrapp, an elementary  teacher with Dixon Public Schools, assisted the instructors by writing  up the syllabus for the Homework Helper session using the Seesaw program for Dixon and surrounding schools. 

Varga notes, “This program is for anyone in our service area. Our first two sessions had children not only from Dixon, but from Sterling, Ashton, Franklin Center, Amboy, and Morrison.”

Jessi West, a social worker for the Edward Clinic Pediatric Department, came up with over 20 fun activities to keep small children busy all day. These activities ranged from a slime recipe, jump rope with jump rope songs, bingo, stickers, and coloring sheets. These items go home with each attendee, including a USB thumb drive that contains files for extra coloring sheets and website addresses for use in age-appropriate activities. 

During the day’s session, the kids receive constant reinforcement about what parents expect of a babysitter. “They should leave the home cleaner than when they arrived by picking up toys, washing, and drying dishes. Their stock goes up if they go the extra mile to give parents the pleasure of coming home to a calm and orderly home,” said Hildebrand.

The classes also provide new friendships among kids who typically wouldn’t have met. Attendees in the last two classes let the instructors know that they would welcome a continuing education class as part of this program, particularly a more advanced cooking class. 

The children weren’t the only ones impressed with the Babysitting Academy. Amy Boss, a mother to a participant, shared, “I am beyond impressed with what you’ve compiled as resources for these kids! The binder of ideas and activities are wonderful! I wish our past babysitters would have had this awesome “bag of tricks.”

Seeing the success of the first babysitting classes, Wegner remarks, “We have received lots of support, encouragement, and positive comments about the Babysitting Academy during this trying time. This collaboration confirms that our community likes to pull together to help.”

Classes take place at the KSB Town Square Center on the second floor, 101 W. 2nd St. in Dixon. The course runs from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with lunch provided. At this time, the cost is only $10 per child.

For more information about the Babysitting Academy, click here, or call KSB Community Wellness at 815-285-5836.