The Boys and Girls Club of Athens is making life easier for some Clarke County students and families as schooling goes virtual during the pandemic.
For safety’s sake as the COVID-19 pandemic surges, Clarke County’s public schools began the 2020-21 school year virtually. The move put many parents in a bind, especially those with younger children; some face the choice of leaving children unattended during the school day, leaving older children in charge, or not going to work.
Some also don’t have reliable internet access.
But the families of 100 Clarke County students don’t have to make that choice, thanks to the Boys and Girls Club and what they’re calling the Club Learning Hub.
Each school morning, about 50 children come to each of the club’s two sites, on Fourth Street and in the school district’s H.T. Edwards Complex. Each child goes through a temperature check before entering. Once inside, wearing masks, they separate into smaller “learning teams,” each with adult supervision, have breakfast, and then begin their school day in a place with a good Wi-Fi signal and enough space to have social distancing among the groups.
“We felt it was important because many children won’t have adult supervision at home,” said Boys and Girls Club Director of Resource Development Sterling Gardner. “We can only take in a few of the kids that we normally do, but we felt it was vitally important for us to step up to the plate and help as many kids as we possibly could.”
It was difficult to limit participation to just 100 of the children who are members of the club because the need is so great, Gardner said. But the club’s staff didn’t think they could handle more than that in the spaces they have.
In normal times, about 150 to 175 youngsters come to each of the sites after the school day for sports, tutoring and other activities, from 2:30 to about 7 p.m. Normal operations have been out of the question during the COVID-19 pandemic, however.
Now, the hours are 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, like a normal school day with a regular routine with scheduled breaks, exercise time and the like.
Clarke students attending the first week said they were happy to be there.
“I like it,” said fifth grade student Kamari McGuire as the school district’s second week began Monday.
“The kids have been cooped up so long, I think it’s just a welcome relief for them,” Gardner said.
There’s one possible hitch: money.
The program will cost the Boys and Girls Club about $120,000 over its normal budget, and like many Athens nonprofits, the club has had to curtail fundraising events, though community members have stepped up with donations to make up for the revenue shortfall, Gardner said. The club this spring canceled its biggest annual fundraiser.
The club is trying a new approach for its second-largest annual fundraising event, a wine-tasting gathering that raises about $70,000. About 60% of the club’s annual operating costs is generated locally, Gardner said.
Instead of a gathering, this year’s wine event will be an online auction, he said.
“The community has been incredibly generous,” he said.
Clarke school officials are hoping for other organizations to set up reliable learning hubs as distance learning continues.