Faculty Senate raises concerns about support needed for App State parents, families in COVID-19

Gianna Holiday, Reporter

The Faculty Senate raised concerns about a lack of assistance for App State community members who have children during a pandemic. They heard the Faculty Welfare and Morale Committee’s “Brief Faculty Parenting and Caregiving Survey Report,” which outlined future plans for assisting App State faculty, staff and students with children.

The main recommendations of the committee’s report aim to provide assistance to parents in the App State community, whether that is faculty, staff or students. Laura Gambrel, an associate professor in Human Development & Psychological Counseling, presented the report.

The committee released recommendations as a result of a parenting survey. It is unclear what exactly will be implemented, but Gambrel said she is hopeful that recreational and academic support will be available.

The committee suggested hosting networking events to help families connect with others to accommodate babysitting, tutoring and other needs. They hope to form support groups for families through the Faculty and Staff Counseling Center.

Other recommendations include offering COVID-19 testing to families of faculty and staff.

“Many parents and children have really been struggling during the pandemic with isolation, lack of academic and social support and the increased concerns about safety and health,” Gambrel said. “Some parents are spending 30 or more hours helping their children with virtual school, which, as you can imagine, makes it difficult to also attend to the increased needs of their students.”

Laura Gambrel (Courtesy of the Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling )

The committee hopes to provide an after-school enrichment program for K-12 children and supervised on-site remote learning centers for children.

One of the main concerns addressed at the faculty senate meeting was the need for financial support. This includes raises for faculty, assistance with tutoring, reduction of costs for on-campus child care and providing supplies needed for working from home.

The committee’s staff wants to make sure there are formal protections for faculty who may request accommodations without negatively impacting their position.

Gambrel said child care issues have been an ongoing topic at App State and in Boone the last few years, as there is a lack of available child care in town, especially for infants and toddlers. 

Virtual schooling and lack of resources because of COVID-19 have created further challenges for working parents. This is because family members and babysitters may not be a safe option with social distancing guidelines.

“This is not particular to faculty or to App State, but a widespread issue across the country, often with more of a burden being placed on women,” said Gambrel. “It is an issue that we have been focusing on in the faculty welfare and morale committee this year.”

Gambrel said that there were already plans to expand the Child Development Center before COVID-19 and that project is continuing.  

“Many parents have reached out to me to thank me and the committee for focusing on this issue and hearing their concerns,” said Gambrel. “Some are also not feeling hopeful that change will occur as a result of this survey and work.” 

Vice Provost Michael McKenzie has outlined specific action steps he is taking to try to address these needs as quickly as possible. He is currently serving as the Academic Affairs liaison for faculty affairs. 

Gambrel said that McKenzie has helped take specific actions with the administration and university as a whole to work towards meeting the requested actions put forth.

Michael McKenzie (Courtesy of Academic Affairs)

McKenzie and Academic Affairs is coordinating exercise sessions, music education, science presentations and other supplemental academic programming.

“We appreciate our faculty and staff who, as they are available, are sharing their expertise with the young children of faculty, staff and students,” McKenzie said.

In reference to the Child Development Center expansion project, McKenzie said that Chancellor Everts reported it is on track to be completed in August, and will serve 40-50 additional students. 

McKenzie said this is an incredibly important resource for faculty, staff and students, and has been a priority for Everts since her arrival on campus.

Steps include working with the university Council of Chairs to provide information and guidance to department chairs on how to support faculty members who are parents, coordinating with camps and conferences, and the Reich College of Education regarding possible ways to offer after school programming to children. 

The committee is also finding ways to make COVID-19 testing more accessible for families. 

“We are hoping to bring resources together across campus to help support families at this time,” Gambrel said. “We are trying to focus on school aged children and support around virtual schooling and recreation, as it seems these are the areas of biggest need. Faculty are also wanting the support and understanding of their department chairs and those in administration.”