Small groups help keep young people learning and playing at a distance from each other
Keeping young people on track academically means clearing one of the first major hurdles – logging on to the virtual classroom. As more students than ever face chronic absenteeism and a myriad of related issues, many Boys & Girls Clubs across the nation are creating learning pods where a designated group of students can safely access computers, all while learning and playing at a distance from each other.
Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County CEO Jacqueline Kronk has closely collaborated with local governments and school systems in northern Indiana to identify students in the most economically disadvantaged zip codes who never logged on for remote school in the spring. Those students, along with hundreds of others who have working parents or caregivers, have registered to attend the Boys & Girls Club where they will be grouped as cohorts of 9 children and 1 staff person.
“It is critical that we are there when families need us the most... We’ve never found ourselves in a situation this dire with children’s learning.” - Jacqueline Kronk
Club staff won't take the place of teachers, but they will keep kids focused, field questions and anticipate challenges with virtual learning. They will also intersperse breaks for mindfulness activities, reading, art, yoga and more. Several dozen teacher aides from local school systems and county parks and recreation employees will be trained to assist at eight locations serving about 820 Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Joseph County members.
Learning pods will stay in the same classroom for the entire day except for breaks in the gymnasium and outdoors. Desks are assigned to facilitate contract tracing, if needed. Other safety protocols include daily COVID-19 symptom checks, temperature readings, mandatory face coverings and dedicated cleaning crews and quarantine spaces, Jacqueline said.
“The individual attention we are able to provide in small cohorts is paying big dividends,” she said. “We can build relationships and a level of trust that facilitates success in these uncertain times.”
Boys & Girls Clubs can also connect families to much needed resources like food banks and utilities assistance programs. Stressful home environments can hinder learning so it’s important to serve the entire family, Jacqueline said.
Close collaboration with school districts has also been key for creating new learning environments in Knoxville and surrounding counties, said Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley COO Markus Jackson. The organization serves youth from 8 school districts, each with different plans for modified school schedules.
“We have to be flexible with what we offer to meet the needs of kids. We work closely with school districts to offer a safe place for kids to learn and grow,” Markus said.
Markus said that many parents, who chose virtual learning over in-person schooling, live in neighborhoods with failing schools. These children were at greater risk of poor academic performance even prior to the pandemic.
Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley upgraded the internet service at its 16 locations so children, who will wear headphones while logged into school, can learn uninterrupted. Club staff will facilitate the individualized class schedules prepared by schools.
As Clubs remain flexible to meet evolving needs, organizations are also facing rising operating costs. Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lynchburg CEO Mark Sheehan said costs have risen about 20 percent, mostly due to extended operating hours and purchases of personal protective equipment, soap and cleaning supplies.
Boy & Girls Club of Greater Lynchburg is considering rotating schedules for computers so that internet bandwidth creates a seamless learning experience. The Club is also working with the school system on how best to serve students with learning disabilities.
Rising above challenges, however, will ensure that kids learn and stay physically and mentally healthy, Mark said. The entire community benefits when children have a safe place during the day and parents can maintain employment, he said.