As classes resumed in January after the winter break, Gateway staff were able to welcome a small handful of students back to campus with the opening of its first Learning Hubs, a collaborative effort between Gateway and the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco (BGCSF) to support students who need a little extra help to access and make the most of virtual learning.
“We set out to accomplish two goals with the Learning Hubs: the first being to help students engage fully in their classes with the support of caring adults, the second being to help them build social connections with their peers,” said Aaron Watson, Director of Schools and Partnerships. “Neither of those things are easy right now, but we’re meeting a real need and this is an exciting first step for our schools.”
When public health officials directed that some centers could open to support the city’s “most vulnerable” students with distance learning late last fall, Gateway leaders started working through the logistics of making a similar opportunity available to students on the middle and high school campuses. Thanks to Gateway’s strong partnership with BGCSF and status as a Boys and Girls Clubhouse, staff were able to build off the success of Learning Hubs that BGCSF had already established throughout the city, adapting the model to suit Gateway students’ unique needs.
Participating students arrive on campus before online classes begin and, after a quick health screening and temperature check, participate in a socially distanced icebreaker activity or check-in. Each student then has an assigned work area and computer they use to log-in to their online classes, with staff circulating to help students navigate any tech issues, manage their time effectively, or provide academic support. Students eat lunch outside and will play a game like kickball that allows them to get some movement and socialize while staying masked and safe at all times.
In order to operate safely, the program is initially capped at 14 students per campus: a mixed grade cohort at GMS, and a ninth-grade cohort at GHS -- for the ninth graders in particular, time at the Learning Hub is their first real exposure to their high school campus or opportunity to meet classmates in person.
“It was a little awkward at first, to be honest,” said GHS Student Services Coordinator Kenonte Howard, who manages both sites. “Most of the students didn’t know each other and it took them some time to warm up to a school environment again. But you can tell being around peers is making a huge difference. Their body language is different, they’re glad to be here, it’s very positive.”
As the public health situation continues to evolve, staff will be adding additional small cohorts of students who could most benefit from spending some time on campus. Moreover, even maintaining a small program on campus provides valuable insight and practice for what it might look like to bring gradually larger groups of students back to school in the medium and long-term.
“We’re learning a lot about what it means to have kids and adults together on campus daily, and that’s going to be hugely helpful as we look at transitioning back to campus in the future,” said Aaron.
In the meantime, staff are celebrating a successful and healthy rollout of the Learning Hubs, and the chance to work with students in-person again.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Kenonte. “To be here working with the kids after such a long time of distance learning is really a dream come true.”