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Community centers offer remote learning

Many families rely on centers for internet connections, supervision

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO

Throughout the transition to in-person learning, many families, especially families of color, have chosen to stay remote. Some of those families have made use of learning pods operated by community centers  partnering with Boston After School and Beyond. BASB has offered learning pods for remote learners from elementary school to college, and now is prepping for a crucial summer.

Chris Smith, CEO of BASB, said community centers have built up a lot of trust with their surrounding neighborhoods, so when the pandemic upended the learning model, they were ready to assist in whatever way families needed. Young students needed a place to do online classes, college students needed technical support, and high schoolers needed the enrichment they won’t get at school because of COVID-19 protocols.

“Some of them set up full-day, in-person pods where kids could go physically, in the case they didn’t have child care at home or needed extra support,” Smith told the Banner.

While some set up in-person after-school programs, others extended their enrichment programs to virtual platforms like Zoom.

“They tried to support kids in whatever way they could. And of course we’re gearing up for our most important summer ever, where we want to make sure that young people have a chance to recover academic, social and emotional skills and connections,” Smith said.

Part-time services turned into full-time classes, and cold weather forced organizations to get creative with indoor setups.

Summer learning programs at these institutions typically treat the city as a classroom, using resources from the city’s parks, museums, college campuses and more to expand learning time after school closes. They focus on college readiness, social skills, career readiness and expanding on the core curriculum taught in Boston Public Schools, like language, history and science.

The learning pods offer students from elementary school to college a place to do their remote learning in COVID-safe spaces.

Freedom House in Grove Hall, which has well-established student outreach programs, joined forces with BASB to establish learning pods and prepare summer learning classes. They recently expanded their summer program to 100 students and adjusted them to a remote schedule last summer. Tyler Seever, chief operating officer at Freedom House, said that though they lost the camaraderie of being together, the engagement students experienced at Freedom House translated to the classroom. “At the end of the summer, a lot of students were saying, ‘Now I know how to learn online, now I know what this can be like,’ or, ‘I have a different perspective of online learning than I did before,’” Seever said.

Higher Ground Boston in Roxbury is getting ready to begin its first learning pods as well. Executive Director Mossik Hacobian said Higher Ground plans to place the pods in community centers and affordable housing buildings. There are already 30 families who have expressed interest through their schools. Even though Boston schools are reopening for five-days-a-week learning under COVID-19 safety protocols, some families are still choosing to stay fully remote. For these families, sending their children to a site with a good Wi-Fi connection and supervision is a welcome option.

“We also have a parent-teacher advisory group that we meet with every month,” Hacobian said, “so we have a pretty good line of communication with parents and teachers and principals in the schools.”

Higher Ground also has prioritized homeless families for its summer learning program.

“It was a 25-day program, and about a third of the kids who came for one or more sessions were children who either were currently homeless, or who had been homeless and we had helped recently house,” Hacobian said.

Families who are interested in filling in their child’s learning gaps, whether because of the pandemic or other difficulties, normally reach out through their school or contact BASB’s partner organizations directly. Liliana Mickle, a local higher education expert, reached out to Freedom House for her grandson Anthony, a sophomore at Jeremiah E. Burke High School. Anthony became a student worker at Freedom House last summer.

“It provided their students an opportunity to be together. It provided an opportunity for them to make money during the summer. It gave them an opportunity to see what it’s like to participate in a community,” Mickle said.

Anthony got to hear from local speakers, she said, and talk to them about the challenges he was facing and what he wants to do after high school.

“He’s quiet, so on occasions, he’d be talking and sharing. So that was pretty amazing. And it provided him a space to be able to do that. It took away the isolation,” Mickle said.

COVID, Education, learning pods