It’s official—Last week marked an entire year since Covid-19 disrupted our lives. 

When  problems like financial or food insecurity surfaced, people found  solutions. By now,  we have three covid vaccines, Philadelphia has fully vaccinated more than 140,000 people, and the city is beginning to introduce more lenient social distancing requirements. 

And a question for communities is, are the grassroots solutions still needed as we move forward? 

Last summer, the Philadelphia School District announced an online learning model because of  the pandemic. Haneef Hill of Urban Youth Kings and Queens, an organization that educates and empowers Philadelphia’s youth , came up with a solution for parents and essential workers who couldn’t stay at home with their children  during school hours. He teamed up with Providence Baptist Church of Germantown to provide a virtual learning center in Germantown. 

 “So we wanted to set up a learning space where children could basically go, you know, for their school day hours to complete their work,”Hill says. And it would free up parents who had to continue to work in person.”

Haneef Hill and Providence Baptist Church of Germantown collaborate to open a virtual learning site for the upcoming school year. | Nichole Currie for Gtown Info Hub.

The learning center operated for six months, and its  capacity was 20 children. Hill says in the beginning, attendance was high. The program ran until February this year,  Hill says, “we had to figure out whether there was still a need for us to continue to operate, because the kids were not coming.”

The first time Hill noticed a change was in November, the same time the city reported a spike in covid cases. 

“There was more talk about the pandemic, the numbers rising, and we started to kind of see a shift in enrollment, shift in participation,” Hill says. “Then the same thing in December to the point where we had some days, I would have two staff there, and there’s only one child.”

Although Hill’s learning center saw a rise in attendance after the holidays, it eventually decreased when the school district began talking about reopening  public schools.  

A second community solution was Katy Chatel’s  Zoom Circle Time. Chatel, a former childcare provider, was saddened when Philadelphia closed daycare centers early last year.

“It was an idea I hatched thinking this experience is isolating for everybody,” Katy Chatel, at-home childcare professional, says. “I’m really wanting to keep the morale of the kids up. So I thought of being able to do circle time, like we often do at my house, but on the computer.”

Chatel  says she stopped her program earlier than expected. While many places of employment began feeling zoom fatigue, and were not exempt. She noticed a lower number of people logging on to the circle time, and eventually, Chatel  also felt burned out.

“It was my decision to kind of stop doing it,” Chatel says. “Because I’m a solo parent, I’m always making choices of how to use my time, and I’m somebody who loves to do a lot of things, but there’s only so many things I can juggle in a day.”

Although daycares have reopened and the School District is currently reopening schools on a roll-out basis, young people  still experienced an abnormal year. Remind us who Hill is.

Hill says although some learning centers have closed and things are  returning to normal, youth have still lost a year academically and emotionally. 

“I think the struggle will continue beyond the school year, but it will look different,” Hill says. “Trying to find a way to engage the children after the school year, but also help them you know, regain what they lost this year, because they lost a lot from this experience.”

The Germantown Info Hub is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.