Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio will provide in-person help for kids in digital-only education environments by creating at least 11 school-day learning centers in Clubs across the region.
Jeff Scott, BGCNEO’s president and CEO, said the organization will open ClubSmart Learning Centers in Cleveland, Lorain County, Akron and Sandusky to help students once the school year begins in September. Each site will have laptop computers for the children and Internet access.
Learning will still be done virtually according to each school district’s curriculum. At the centers, Club staff members serving as adult proctors will help children complete their schoolwork and provide additional stress-relieving programs such as art, writing and athletics.
Scott said BGCNEO feels the centers can curb academic loss and bridge the digital divide.
“Our kids need our help,” he said. “The digital divide in Northeast Ohio puts so many of our kids and our families at a disadvantage. We understand there is risk in what we’re doing. We also know there is long-term risk from academic loss and even kids dropping out.”
Scott added, “We feel it is our duty to create a safe place for kids to connect digitally and to ease the burden on working parents.”
Scott noted that Northeast Ohio is the fourth-worst connected region in the U.S.; in some neighborhoods, 70% of the households do not have broadband Internet access. More than a quarter of all households in the region are without Internet access.
Allen Smith, BGCNEO’s chief operating officer, said ClubSmart Learning Centers initially will be located at the Broadway, Saint Luke’s, King Kennedy and East Tech locations in Cleveland; at the Desich Family Campus, Elyria Middle, Southside Gardens and Westview Terrace Clubs in Lorain County; at Teen Center and Osborne Elementary in Sandusky; and at the Steve Wise Club in Akron.
Other sites could be added if funding can be found and operational requirements met.
Each site will have a socially distant setup with proctors, he said. Sites will have two Club proctors for every nine kids, along with two “roamers” and three people assigned to ensure social distancing. There will be also be a medical professional on hand at each ClubSmart location.
Smith said the ClubSmart Learning Centers will operate during the normal school day but the exact hours have not yet been determined.
BGCNEO closed all its Clubs when the pandemic hit in March. The organization reopened nine Clubs in June after establishing social distancing and cleaning protocols, lowering the maximum capacities at all sites and reducing staff-to-member ratios. Scott said having kids and staff in buildings during the summer gave BGCNEO valuable insights into safety measures.
BGCNEO believes the ClubSmart Learning Centers could serve as many as 1,000 kids per day.
Boys & Girls Clubs provide safe, fun places for kids ages 6-18 to go after school. The Clubs focus on academic achievement, healthy lifestyles and character development. The Clubs’ youth development professionals provide programming that includes arts, athletics and homework help.
The merger creating BGCNEO was the largest of its type in the country. In addition to the four Clubs, two Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland subsidiaries also joined BGCNEO and retained their current board structures. They are Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance, which works to stem violence in the city, and Open Tone Music, which provides music, art, dance and theater programming.