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Bay Oaks opens for Fun Days next week

The campus has set up camp for kids while school is out.

September 15, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Lee County School District announced this week that school will not resume in the county until Monday, Sept. 25.

If that date holds, Lee County students will be out of school for 19 days. While Hurricane Irma brought an onslaught of issues for the entire state, these school closures add another level of hardship for some in the community.

Fort Myers Beach Elementary's student body ranks at 86 percent economically disadvantaged. Many rely on the school lunches and working families depend on the Parent-Teacher Organization-run school clubs and Bay Oaks Recreational Campus programs for after-school care. Without school, many parents are facing series of tough decisions.

"At this point it does create a hardship for them," said Beach Principal, Jeff Dobbins. "Moms and dads rely heavily on the after school care. A lot of our families too have to go back to work and are wondering what do we do with our kids."

Despite taking some hits from the storm at Bay Oaks, Director Sean De Palma and his staff have been working to get the campus up and running to provide a safe place for parents to leave their students during work hours next week.

"The schools are closed and parents need to get back to work," De Palma said. "We need to help bring normality back to the community."

Bay Oaks will host "Fun Days" camp next week, beginning Monday, Sept. 18 through Friday, Sept. 22, beginning at 7:30 a.m. and ending at 6 p.m. each day. Campers will get to play games, go to the pool and do activities at the Bay Oaks campus.

The cost is $15 per day per child for Bay Oaks members and $20 for non-members.

"If there is a financial burden, come in and talk to us, we'll work something out for our families," De Palma said.

Signup and payment are accepted at the start of each day. Call 765-4222 for more information.

Campers will be given two snacks during the day but De Palma asked that families send their children in with a packed lunch.

Bay Oaks will open to its members and the public on Monday, as well.

Bay Oaks suffered from the storm, but De Palma said it could have been worse. There were several trees knocked over, and flooding in the weight room. The pool lost two umbrellas, a $10,000 expense. Staff has moved the remaining workout equipment to a temporary workout area in the rec center so members can come in and do a modified workout, but the weight room is out of commission for now, he said.

Staff has worked to make sure the campus will be ready for the campers on Monday.

"We need to allow parents to get back to their adult responsibilities and pick up where the school district can't right now," he said.

It was a relief for Fort Myers Beach resident Rhonda Murray when she heard about the Bay Oaks camp. Her son attends beach school and Bay Oaks' after school programs.

"I did freak out when I heard the school announcement," she said. "I had no alternative. I would have had to take unpaid time off from work."

Dobbins said some of the schools in the eastern area of the county are still without power and have sustained structural damage. Others were used over the weekend as county shelters for evacuees and have to be cleaned up. For now, the school district has to be sure its students have a safe place to return to, he said.

The beach school didn't suffer any major damages; some of its trees were lost and there was some flooding in the cafeteria, Dobbins said. But, its power is restored and maintenance staff is cleaning it up. There is a district staff meeting on Monday, and Dobbins hopes to get more direction on how the beach school can help its students and families while classes are canceled.

Once school starts again, Dobbins predicts there will be some emotional work to get through with students who have been badly impacted by the storm. But, returning to class will help them get back into a normal schedule.

"I can't wait to get back and be there with the kids and the staff. When you're together every day of the week and then weeks go by, you wonder and you worry about everyone," Dobbins said. "We have a lot to be thankful for, our family, our friends and our community."



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