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Q&A: Creating Safe Spaces For Cleveland Kids To Learn

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio reopened nine of its 39 clubs in June, including this one on Broadway Avenue in Cleveland. The clubs are working on a plan to serve school-age children during the day at multiple locations so students can learn safely and have access to needed technology for remote learning. [Tim Harrison for ideastream]
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio on Broadway Avenue in Cleveland.

Community organizations and churches are scrambling to provide safe, digitally connected daytime spaces for Cleveland kids who won't be in school due to remote learning decisions. In many cases, they'd be home alone or out in neighborhoods where there could be bigger concerns than the coronavirus, like safety.

Reporter Rachel Dissell talked with ideastream’s Glenn Forbes on Morning Edition Friday about these challenges and more as part of Homeroom: A Return to Learning, ideastream's special series examining the challenges and perils of returning to school during the coronavirus pandemic.

Remote learning presents unique problems for some families, especially ones headed by single working parents or families in low-income or under-resourced neighborhoods where safety may be an issue. Is that right?

There's a number of issues that parents and schools are grappling with as they start virtually in Cleveland. There are families who lack child care during the day when kids are supposed to be doing learning in person with their teachers over their computers. Some may not have enough devices or they may not have a high-speed internet connection so that multiple kids can do virtual learning at the same time. But in some neighborhoods, you know, safety could be an issue if kids are home alone during the day. And so agencies like Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland and Open Doors Academy and some churches are stepping in. And the hope is that they're going to provide some safe spaces for kids during the day. One of them is Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio. Here's what Jeff Scott, who was named the president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio, told us:

“Majority of the kids that attend our clubs come from single-mother homes. That's just sort of a broad, broad brush stroke there. But we believe that the child care piece is a critical component. In addition to meals. So we could we could get kids in the club and do it safely and do it so that we can help them with virtual learning. But it's also so that they have a place to go that say that their parents can go to work.”

Why is safety an issue for some of these kids? And has it changed over the last, you know, four or five months?

Since the pandemic started there has been an increase of shootings in the city of Cleveland, according to police statistics. And the problem is worse in some pockets of the city and that's why the Boys and Girls Clubs started working on figuring out a way to reopen it. And Jeff Scott said his staff has noticed those effects.

“Gun violence is up dramatically. And even just anecdotally, for certain of our neighborhoods, we know that we've had four club kids involved, either killed themselves or involved with a family member that's been killed by gun violence,” Scott said. “And normally a situation like that might arise once every couple of months, and that’s since the beginning of May.

There's a number of other agencies and groups opening these learning centers. Is that correct? What do we know about them?

There's quite a few efforts afoot. You know, I wish there was one place where we could find all of them. I haven't been able to locate that yet. But the Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon said in an interview on the school's website that, when the school did a survey of community groups, that more than 100 of them, including churches and other after school and enrichment providers, responded to the survey saying that they wanted to open up spaces or find ways to support children who needed these kind of safe and digitally connected places to learn during the day.

But Aaron Phillips from the Cleveland Clergy Coalition told me that there's a lot of logistics that go into that. And so the groups that are trying to figure this out have to consider how to protect staff and children from the virus, how to get high-speed internet connections into their facilities. And it's a lot of work.

“The churches, pastors, we thought about what we could do to help the situation, knowing that the situation in our communities is that families need relief, to have their children go somewhere, safe spaces, and to make sure that there are some that have tutoring programs, as well as for the virtual classes taking place,” Phillips said.

Is there a concern that this is essentially the same exposure to the virus as kids going to school?

You know, I asked a lot of folks about this. And, you know, one thing that you have to say is that that the science and the information that we have on how the coronavirus is transmitted does continue to change. So people are grappling with that kind of daily as they make these decisions.

But what most people told me was that schools in Cleveland often have hundreds of children in them and also dozens of staff members. And so these learning centers that are going to open up are going to be much, much smaller. They'll have spaces with maybe just 10 or 15 kids in them and one or two staff people circulating around to help them. So the numbers themselves are a lot smaller and easier to contain. And they think that with that, they can keep safety at the forefront.

So I think one of the things we have to do is just kind of look and see how this goes. It was pretty clear that the need for these centers existed and people are putting a lot of energy and effort into making them work. And it's something that I think that will continue to follow.


This Q and A is part of Coping With COVID-19, an ideastream reporting project and local journalism collaborative funded by Third Federal Foundation and University Settlement. The series expands coverage of the local impacts of COVID-19 in Northeast Ohio and investigates how the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted and laid bare the existing inequities that stem from decades of disinvestment in public health, the social safety net, preventive medicine and communities of color.