The Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia is coming together this school year to foster helpful learning environments for the expected 100% virtual school period.
Haneef Hill, founder of the mentoring organization Urban Youth Kings and Queens (UYKQ), is partnering with Providence Baptist Church of Germantown to create an in person learning center for students. The site will be located at the church on 87 E. Haines Street. Working with the church, Hill hopes to provide a feasible solution for students with parents who can’t work remotely.
Hill is the father of a five-year-old daughter, Jo’Lae, who will begin kindergarten this year. When the school district announced their plan for complete virtual learning until November, he thought about how he and other parents could balance work and support their child’s learning experience.
“This is for those [parents] who need that outlet, who still need to work,” Hill said. “Who are sitting home right now thinking, ‘Do I quit my job to stay home with my child or, you know, do I find a way for my child to still get their education so I can still go to work.”
Germantown resident Randi Morgan is the mother of a 12-year-old daughter, Amaya. They have been involved with UYKQ programs in the past and Amaya will be attending the new learning center. As a property manager, Morgan has to check on properties throughout the day and cannot work remotely. But she was not comfortable leaving her daughter on her own.
“I have to go to work and my child definitely needs an environment where she can still learn and stay focused and socialize,” Morgan said. “I can’t just leave her home and assume that she’ll do well academically, because she’s not going to have that environment that she needs.”
When the program begins, masked students will arrive and a volunteer will take their temperatures before they enter the church. Parents will not be permitted inside the building. Round tables will seat two students with siblings seated together. Parents will need to provide a packed lunch. Hill said he plans to have mentors and tutors available throughout the day.
The non-profit organization Men Who Care, which provides youth enrichment and human services, is also setting up locations for in-person learning. The organization is opening what they are calling “satellite learning centers”. One of their goals is for children to stay in the habit of leaving home for school, and returning.
Organization member Clayton Justice said when Philadelphia schools switched to virtual learning in March many disparities heightened. Many students did not have access to computers or internet access. When parents had to leave the home for work, students often had difficult learning experiences.
Justice said that for many students, last semester’s online learning highlighted the lack of structure and distractions kids faced at home. “Teachers were reporting that you know, kids were not getting logged in on time, they’re walking away from the computer. So it just wasn’t enough structure.”
Men Who Care will collaborate with local churches and non-profit organizations to open multiple satellite centers across Germantown. They plan to have approximately 15 children per site and hope to provide tutors from local universities.
“So that the kids can get online, get their schoolwork done, potentially get some tutoring if need be,” Justice said. “So that we can also simulate an environment as if they were in school, but more importantly, get them out of an environment that may cause distress.”
It is unclear if the entire school-year will be held online. The school district has announced a virtual schedule that will be for the first grading period. As a parent, Hill said the announcement was a “burden” for him. He is concerned with the long-term effects of virtual learning.
While he hopes his program will offer solutions, Haneef Hill worries about the long term effects of changes to the normal school environment. “I felt like when they pulled the kids out of school in March, it was going to be very detrimental to the future of education because this situation is not just going to affect this year. Like some of these kids will be affected for years to come.”
Randi Morgan said she knows that the current situation with virtual school will be tough on students and parents, but having options like on-site learning centers helps. With the tough choices caused by the pandemic, she understands the school district’s decision. “I just thought it’s gonna be hard,” Morgan said. “But it would also be hard if they went back to school and had to shut down, and then we scrambled to find somewhere for the kids to go.”