By Kathy Chouteau
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) has helped alleviate some of the challenges families are facing by investing $2 million for the 2020-21 school year in Learning Hubs serving more than 250 students in 17 locations across the county.
The CCCOE-sponsored Learning Hubs, which primarily serve students in Transitional Kindergarten through 5th grade, are made possible through a partnership with childcare centers and nonprofit organizations across the county. The organizations offering Learning Hubs include: Bright Futures in Richmond, the cities of Richmond and Oakley, YMCA of the East Bay, the housing authorities in Pittsburg and Rodeo, the Learning Center in Pittsburg, STAND! Transitional Housing, in Concord and The Growing Room and Kid’s Country in Danville.
“During this pandemic, Learning Hubs have become a model that promotes the achievement of educational and developmental milestones,” said Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey. “They are a safe place for students who might need additional support during distance learning. We see the value of our community partnerships and investments to get us through this difficult time and beyond.”
According to CCCOE, when the pandemic hit, Richmond’s Bright Futures—a nonprofit growth and development center serving students from pre-K through young adulthood—quickly jumped into action, knowing the local community needed the Learning Hub more than most.
“We went immediately into solution mode,” said Bright Futures Executive Director Ivy Winston. “We were provided with air purifiers and we were able to put procedures into place to operate and function in the safest way that we can. We opened for parents who were essential workers. We trained parents on safe practices away from the center and trained staff on safe practices while here.”
As part of their offerings, Learning Hubs are open throughout the school day and during after-school hours, providing students with academic and technology support, social-emotional learning, STEM learning activities, team-building, socially-distanced activities and support, educational assistance, daily health screenings and also adhere to intense safety protocols, per CCCOE.
Over time, Winston has noticed students’ attitudes evolving. “Kids now have yard time,” said Winston, adding that “they interact with each other but keep their distance. When they eat outdoors, they split tables and are faced apart, but can still laugh and joke and talk with each other. Their mindset has absolutely turned around. Even during music and dance on socially distanced markers and with masks on, there are ways that you can redirect the mindset.”
Sharrone Baugh and her husband are essential workers and parents of children currently attending Bright Futures. While their children attended the center before the pandemic, they looked to them for additional help with distance learning when they both returned to work.
“I knew they would ensure that the staff were well-trained and extremely cognizant of the new way of doing things as far as managing children, social distancing, ensuring people keep their hands clean, make sure they’re wearing their PPE, as well as supporting them with logging into class on time, providing assistance with classwork and giving them socialization,” said Baugh. “I felt confident that my children would be safe there.”
While many school districts are planning to return to some form of in-person instruction over the next few weeks, there will still be a role for the Learning Hubs through the end of the school year and summer, said Mackey.
“The success and perseverance of our Learning Hubs have led to a model for reopening on a larger scale,” said Mackey. “We look forward to continued partnerships throughout the county with our community members and families as we work to reopen safe education facilities and schools.”