With a new school year approaching and many districts planning to operate with modifications, community leaders are preparing to offer resources to students and their families.
Loretta Burns is the founder and executive director of the A.B. Christian Learning Center in Fort Worth. Their primary focus is on reading but all academic areas are supported as well, Burns said.
“A.B. Christian Learning Center provides out-of-school time learning programs for vulnerable families and supporting those families who can’t afford tutors, who have other social-economic issues that could become a challenge to learn,” Burns said. “For us, it’s those students at risk of academic failure for whatever reason. For economic reasons, for broken homes. For poverty, children of color, particularly, for the zip codes that they live in.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said their programs during the academic school year operated after school and serve about 100 children. This year, they will be using multiple facilities to operate as close to as a normal school day as possible.
Each site will have 30 children, with classrooms even smaller to abide by social distancing guidelines and monitored by teaching assistants. Safety protocols include, but are not limited to, daily temperature checks.
“It will count as if they were in school because they will be taught by their Fort Worth ISD teacher by Zoom. We’ve already coordinated with the district. They will have their district Chrome book,” Burns explained. “Before the pandemic, there was an academic achievement gap. People with social, economic and low-income children of color were behind. They did not have access to things that higher-income students had. Now with the pandemic, it’s just gotten worse. We have students who have had any access to learning since March. Those are the students we’re trying to reach because they have grandparents that don’t know how to work with the technology. They have babysitters who are like ‘I didn’t sign up for that. I’m not a teacher.'"
Within Fort Worth ISD, a district spokesperson confirmed 80% of their students live on or below the federal poverty line. When parents register their students, they are asked whether they have access to WiFi or not. If not, district officials say they will provide them. This past spring, 6,000 hotspots were distributed with another 10,000 recently purchased.
In Dallas, parents can enroll their children in one of the Jewish Community Center’s 10-student learning pods for a fee. One of the programs is geared towards children whose schools have not reopened, while the other is specifically for those who are enrolled in virtual learning.
Tara Ohayon is with the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas.
“In the virtual support track, children bring devices, work school supplies. we will support them virtually, getting through their day. and the great part is when they're done the j has a great facility and they can do all the things we have here - sports art, swimming,” Ohayon said.
Burns said so far, the AB Christian Learning Center has identified at least two facilities they will use for their fall semester program. They are looking at others, as well.
Find more information on the AB Christian Learning Center program here. Information on fees and registration for the JCC program is here. Other community centers are offering similar programs, including YMCA locations in several North Texas cities.