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A Turning Point: Boys and Girls Club opens in-person learning centers to provide safe haven during pandemic

Other nonprofits following suit and offering in-person school-day programs including Open Doors Academy, Salvation Army of Summit County

CLEVELAND — As students around Northeast Ohio prepare for a virtual start to their school year, many are facing unprecedented roadblocks.

The Boys and Girls Club of Northeast Ohio sees a real crisis shaping up, caused by the digital divide and underscored by real safety concerns.

Richard Starr, director of the King-Kennedy Boys and Girls Club, said in an interview that during the pandemic, he has “lost a few kids as far as gang violence, street violence, and I think a lot of that comes from kids not having somewhere to go.”

It’s critical for children to have a safe space where they can learn in person and have access to computers and a reliable internet connection, said the club’s chief executive officer, Jeff Scott.  

And so the organization is now taking on a huge task – pivoting their model and opening in-person learning centers at Boys and Girls Clubs across the region.

The “ClubSmart” centers, which opened early in September, give kids a sense of community. Students are given meals throughout the day and supervised by adult proctors who provide help with lessons. “We think it really helps ease the mental stress on our kids and gives them creative outlets through other traditional boys and girls clubs programming,"  Scott said.

Children undergo daily temperature checks and are seated in separate learning pods so they remain appropriately distanced.

And other nonprofits are now following suit, including the Salvation Army of Summit County, which now offers daytime school programming for working parents.

Open Doors Academy, a Cleveland nonprofit that provides enrichment programming, has also set up remote learning centers for students at six Breakthrough Schools in Cleveland. Participating children receive free breakfast and lunch each day, and the Open Doors Academy staff provides in-person support during remote lessons taught by Breakthrough teachers.

“One of the things that we've learned in working with kids all of these years is that they rely on somebody a mentor ….an adult in the room to help them learn and to make them feel confident,” said Dorothy Moulthrop, Open Doors Academy chief executive officer.

“We know that there's so many stressors right now for lots of kids and families," she said. "I see this as a way to mitigate some of that stress and to add some normalcy to people's lives and to the kids’ lives right now.”

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