Lots of people are “pivoting” these days, but the clearest case of a great pivot move is that of the Boys & Girls Club in Charlestown as they seamlessly moved towards offering ‘Learning Hubs’ for Charlestown students to provide a great, safe way to get out of the house for remote learning, and add enrichment and programming during free time.
Director Derek Gallagher said the ‘Learning Enrichment Program’ they started grew out of a successful outdoor summer camp they hosted in July and August. There were no problems with the camp, and every precaution was taken to make sure things were safe. As school came around, Gallagher said the Club wondered if they could continue serving their member families during remote school.
“I’m happy kids are going to school in some way, but from a mental and physical aspect, kids need to be in each other’s orbit,” he said. “To look up from your classes and see your friend is there helps a lot and to know you can have a social-distanced lunch with them later picks the kids up. It helps them tremendously.”
That gave birth to the Learning Hubs, which allows kids to set up remotely for their school classes in socially-distant settings and also participate in activities when classes are out of session – filling the gap in the dreaded “dead periods” generated by remote learning plans.
“Number one, safety is our largest concern,” he said. “We moved forward and put $50,000 into upping our electrical and wireless network. We had done the summer program and it went well and there were no cases. We learned a lot from it and parents loved it too. We decided to keep on going and so far it’s gone fantastic.”
The Hubs host about 85 kids per day in seven “pods” made up of kids from 2nd grade to high school seniors. They are monitored by 33 staff members that serve as proctors to answer simple questions or help with technology – and also to align with teachers and administrators from the three Charlestown elementary schools – the Eliot K-8, the Warren Prescott and the Harvard Kent.
“The beautiful part about how this came together is the cooperation we got between all the Charlestown schools with Michele Davis, Jason Gallagher and Traci Griffiths,” he said. “They were helpful from the start. We now have systems in place with staff and teachers able to connect if there is a problem.”
The star of the show, Gallagher said, is the staff at the Club. When he informed them the Club was looking at moving ahead on a school-day program, he didn’t know what to expect. He thought there might be some pushback or worries. There was none of that, and he said he’s grateful to them.
“Not one staff put up a stink about doing this,” he said. “No one said it was unsafe or didn’t want to do it. We’ve been arriving at 6:30 a.m. and our last kids sometimes don’t leave until 7 p.m. I can’t say enough about the dedication of this staff to our families in such an uncertain time.”
One of the biggest challenges was to coordinate schedules of so many kids in different schools and at different grade levels. Seemingly everyone had a different schedule and some teachers do let kids out from class early. To keep things focused, they have developed a personal box for each student that they can use for quick play things or projects. If they finish a class and there is dead time, they can reach for the quick box and work or play at their desk until it’s time to move on.
In larger dead time blocks, kids can go to the gym, or the games room, and in nice weather they have utilized the patio outside for jump rope and chalk art. Each pod also has a jump rope inside and a designated spot for kids to work off energy outside of the pod if they get too antsy during class. They also intend to add more safe programming to help enrich kids when they’re not in class or working on homework.
Now, he said, they’re looking forward at what the winter or new year might bring, and how they’ll handle hybrid education if that does come to be.
“So much is up in the air, and we look at adjustments and say, ‘We’ll figure it out,’ and we do,” he said. “We’ll be running this program for some time I think.”