SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- One month into the school year, San Francisco is trying out a new concept to help students with distance learning.
They're called community learning hubs and the city opened 45 of them this week inside community centers, recreation facilities and libraries.
One of them started operating inside Chinatown YMCA where staff, who usually run the after-school programs, are instead helping students log in to their Zoom classes on time.
"The staff acts as a bridge to the schools, so we are in contact with teachers and the principals," said Kari Lee, executive director of Chinatown YMCA.
The staff members are not replacing teachers. The students still get their instruction from their teacher online, but the YMCA staff is there to support students by monitoring their participation in class, making sure they are completing their assignments and keeping their computers charged and connected to WiFi.
"It's nice to be able to focus on work when I need to focus on work and know that my daughter is safe and she is being taken care of and she is still learning," said Monica Lai, the parent of a first grader.
The learning centers were opened after reports that some students were not attending online classes or were having trouble getting a reliable connection to the internet.
"We are helping the students most in need, our students that are living in public housing, who are homeless, foster care youth, English learners or families where parents are working and they really need that support throughout the day," said Jenny Lam, commissioner in the San Francisco Board of Education.
Lam said the centers are a safe place for students to get much needed interaction with other kids.
Recreation and Parks workers, who ran summer camps for youth in June and July, are now staffing 13 community learning hubs at recreation centers throughout the city.
"All of my recreation staff has been sort of reassigned to support children during the pandemic," said Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks department.
"Kids need a caring adult to make sure they are paying attention to their classes, to help them with their technology problems and to give them a little care and attention," explained Ginsburg.
The centers run from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Students sit far apart on large tables spread out in large rooms. They wear headsets to avoid distracting each other while they listen to their teachers.
Staff members keep an eye on a schedule they post on a wall with the students' class schedule, which can vary greatly since the students don't always attend the same classes or even the same schools.
Some students have classes end around noon while others keep studying into the early afternoon.
"When it was at home it kind of was all over the place. We were missing classes because we were like, how do we sign on," said Jasmine Marksman, who now sits quietly at a desk wearing large headphones and with her laptop in front of her.
There is no typical recess or lunch break because of the varying schedules. Workers pass out free meals that students eat at their desk. If kids have a break between classes, they can pull out a game or draw. Marksman spent time between classes with a staff member learning how to make bracelets.
"This was the first time that a lot of these kids have been out and interacting with other people for six months. It is just so wonderful to see them excited as if it was the first day of school," said Maria Su, director of the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families, which runs the program.
Su said the centers give kids some sense of normalcy back. Many were scared when they had to leave school because of the pandemic in March and have been apprehensive about returning to school.
The community learning hubs are for young students from kindergarten through the sixth grade. Su said the goal is to expand the program to include middle and high school students in the near future.
To learn more about the San Francisco community learning hubs, visit the DCYF website here.
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