By Ginger DeShaney
It has been a tremendous challenge for parents to juggle their jobs AND their young kids’ remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston created the Remote Learning Program to help provide relief. The Edgerley Family South Boston Club is part of this innovation.
Enrolled students “go to school” at the Club, where they log onto their computers for Zoom classes with their teachers.
“The parents are definitely appreciative of what we are able to provide for their kids,” said Harry Duvall, the executive director of the South Boston Club. “There’s definite value in creating conditions where students can learn and study.”
The Club offers a place that’s welcoming, safe, and comfortable, with an expectation of learning.
When it was clear the 2020-21 school year would be unlike any other, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston went into action. “We did this as a team in terms of planning,” Duvall said.
During the summer, the team started planning for the school year. “We were trying to understand what the state, cities, schools might do,” Duvall said. “We were watching what was happening across the country.”
The team thought about the needs of families and how things would be different in terms of schooling.
“We had the idea to open the Club during the day and have the students come here to go to school,” Duvall said. “Even not knowing what Boston Public Schools would do, this would be an option.”
A sound safety model was established at the outset — guidelines, social distancing, minimizing interactions with others, wearing masks — and then the team determined what the program would look like, which included a limited enrollment.
The Club opened up the program to member families first, then to other South Boston families, then to families in Dorchester and other neighborhoods.
There are 70 students divided among seven groups of 7 to 12 kids, ages 6 to 12. “The group you’re in is the group you’re in,” Duvall said. “Everyone is in the same group every day to minimize exposure.”
Five of the groups are dedicated to specific schools:
- 2 groups of Condon School kids;
- 2 groups of Perry School kids;
- 1 group of Perkins School kids.
There are two mixed groups of students from the Henderson, Mason, Tynan, and other schools.
“We keep kids together by school, grade, and family as much as we can,” Duvall said.
The South Boston Club converted individual spaces to remote learning centers and redeployed staff to different assignments. “It was a big shift,” said Duvall.
The performing arts center, game room, youth lounge, day care, computer room, and homework room were converted and set up like study halls; kids have individual stations separated by Plexiglass dividers.
The South Boston Club took extra time to finish the room conversions; the program began a week after Boston Public Schools started.
The Club upgraded its Wi-Fi and firewalls to accommodate more usage. It also set up charging stations for the students’ computers. “It will be interesting to see what our electric bill will be,” Duvall joked.
The kids bring their own computers to the Club every day. Many of them have Chromebooks from their schools, Duvall said. Some Club computers are available as backups, if necessary.
In addition, the Club provides a healthy breakfast, lunch, and snack for the kids, separate from the school district. They also provide headphones to kids who need them.
The Club’s staff members were converted to Remote Learning Program staffers. “They are almost like proctors,” Duvall said. “They don’t teach; they are there to help the kids.”
The Club staff help the students with such things as:
- Logging onto their Zoom sessions;
- Technical situations;
- Science experiments;
- Low-level problem solving;
- Navigating to other platforms;
- Reminding about safety protocols (hand washing, keeping masks on, etc.);
- Redirecting attention.
Another important part of their job is to give plenty of encouragement and recognition. “We can see in real time when kids have accomplished something and we can congratulate them,” Duvall said.
The Club staff also communicate regularly with the schools and the teachers. Just the other day a teacher from the Perry School dropped off materials for two students learning at the Club.
It’s not normal for kids to go to the Club for school. But the fact that they leave the house for school — like in normal times — gives them a sense of routine.
“The routine and separation are good,” Duvall said.
“We wondered if the students were not going to do schoolwork because it’s a Club, but they adapted quickly. The transition has been good with the kids.”
Because of the pandemic, kids are learning to be self-sufficient and independent. “They need to be on task, manage their schedules, sign in to class,” Duvall said. “Kids are learning self-management at a younger age than they normally would have.”
The Club follows the students’ school schedules for lunch, recess, etc. The program runs from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. “Once the school day is done, they go home,” Duvall said, noting that the Club offers an after-school program for another group of kids and staff members don’t want any overlap of students.
“The parents have been really great. We have good communication with parents regarding logistics, behavior, and learning needs,” Duvall said. “We see parents as partners. There’s definitely a high level of appreciation. There’s a real community feel. We are all in it together.
“The work we’re doing with schools and families draws the spotlight on when communities work together how we can overcome challenging times.”