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Education

Youth Centers Up Hours And The Wi-Fi To Take In Kids While Schools Are Closed

Two children work on remote lessons at the Gene Slay's Girls and Boys Club in Soulard on Sept. 9, 2020. The club opened an all-day learning center for up to 54 children to do schoolwork while schools remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ryan Delaney
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Two children work on remote lessons at the Gene Slay's Girls and Boys Club in Soulard. The club opened an all-day learning center for up to 54 children to do schoolwork while schools remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

The biggest challenge so far for employees of the Gene Slay’s Girls and Boys Club is getting the Wi-Fi to reach every nook and cranny where students are spread out doing lessons on their school-issued devices.

“Our building is basically a cinder block, so getting Wi-Fi through some of those hardy 1950s walls has been an interesting adventure,” said Jeremy Kane, a development officer for the club in the Soulard neighborhood.

As most public schools in St. Louis and St. Louis County remain closed to protect student and staff health, recreation and youth centers are expanding hours to take in students who otherwise would be without supervision, a decent lunch or good internet to get lessons done.

Child care during the pandemic is a major hurdle to getting parents fully back into the workforce, and youth advocates worry as well about negative academic and social impacts of kids being stuck at home.

While teachers run lectures and hand out assignments and grades over the internet, staff at Gene Slay’s Girls and Boys Club help with technical issues or explain a math problem when they’re able.

Terrell Adger, the center’s program manager and basketball coach, is helping kids with multiplication instead of their jump shots, since contact sports are still a no-go.

“I am relearning a lot of things that I knew before,” he said, referring to "new math," the modern way students are taught how to solve problems.

The efforts to give children a place to go during the pandemic began in the spring, when the St. Louis mayor’s office and heads of youth centers had weekly calls to coordinate meals and other services while their buildings had to lock their doors.

The Gene Slay’s club typically takes in about 200 kids after school or in the summer for camps. But because of capacity restrictions, when it reopened in the summer it was capped at 54 children. Attendance for the school-day program has averaged between 40 and 45 kids from first grade to high school. The club added its 17th name to the waitlist on Thursday.

Other youth centers and YMCAs have also received extensions of childcare licenses to be open during the school day. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis is offering full-day programming at three sites in the city and county, along with after-school academic support at nine locations.

The Gateway Region YMCA started what it’s calling the Y Enrichment Program “that supports student care and learning,” a Y spokeswoman said. More than 320 students come to Y’s and other off-site locations during the school day for academic support.

St. Louis Public Schools started the year virtually Aug. 31 but still opened two dozen of its 68 buildings for students to come work and eat lunch in. About a thousand kids came each of the first five days, according to the district.

At the Gene Slay’s club in Soulard, Clyde C. Miller high school freshman MingLee Coffie said back-to-back 90-minute Zoom classes have been stressful, but it’s all been smoother than virtual school in the spring.

She’s glad to be doing schoolwork somewhere other than home, “‘Cuz in the house I be going insane, I feel like,” said the 14-year-old.

She now spreads out with her laptop and phone ready to call into class or review lesson materials.

Coffie wants to take the health care track at Clyde C. Miller, which is SLPS’ career-focused high school. She hopes school is back in person — her preference — before classes get more lab and hands-on focused.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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