James Larson, Senior Photographer

In response to coronavirus-related education disparities, local nonprofits are working with the city to open community learning hubs. The first three city-managed hubs are expected to open on Monday.

Several local organizations –– including New Haven YMCA Youth Center, the Greater New Haven Clergy Association and New Haven Public Schools Advocates –– came together in August after the Board of Education announced that the school year would start remotely. They planned to create safe spaces where students could go during the school day while their parents were at work. 

After weeks of meticulous planning, the city of New Haven and local organizations have agreed to open Barnard Nature Center, Trowbridge Square and Coogan Pavilion as community learning hubs. The city Youth and Recreation Department will manage the sites, which will be backed by city dollars.

“[The Greater New Haven Clergy Association and other partners] saw what happened in the spring with students not being able to log onto Wi-Fi or parents [who] were not able to facilitate their learning,” said Rev. Steven Cousins, a representative of the Clergy Association. “So we really wanted to provide a safe space for children to log onto Wi-Fi and have a facilitator on site.”

Interested parents were asked to fill out a “common application” Google Form between Sept. 28 and Sept. 30 to indicate that they wanted their child seated at one of the three learning hubs. Applicants had to have a child enrolled in first through ninth grade in a New Haven public school. They also had to provide a birth certificate or passport, health examination form and proof of residency to qualify for the program.

Applicants who do not get assigned to one of the first three learning hubs will have more opportunities to secure school-day care for their child in the future on a rolling basis, Cousins said. According to the city’s “common application” for the program, different community organizations — including local churches affiliated with the Clergy Association and the YMCA — are expected to open at least 10 more community learning hubs sometime later in the fall.

“The New Haven YMCA Youth Center proposes to operate New Haven YMCA Learning Extension Centers to provide safe and clean locations to support NHPS students … [in conjunction] with New Haven churches,” wrote District Executive Director at New Haven YMCA Youth Center Darryl Brackeen, who also represents Ward 26 on the Board of Alders, in an email to the News.

Brackeen said that the YMCA is also seeking additional funding to open up more operational sites beyond its youth center on 50 Howe Street.

Cousins told the News that he hopes the learning hubs turn out to be a “model for success” and expand their reach by the end of the calendar year. He said that there will ideally be at least 15 total hubs open to the public that will not only contain a school-day component, but also an after-school program. The details of these after-school programs are still being worked out by the project organizers.

Citing the fact that current sites have reported no COVID-19 cases so far, Cousins expressed optimism about the safety of the three new learning hubs. The new sites will have safety precautions including social distancing signage, face mask requirements, temperature checks and handwashing stations. Sites also plan to limit the number of students to no more than 12, which adheres to the state recommendation that no more than 25 people occupy the same indoor space at any given time.

The new community learning hubs are expected to operate Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. — in line with the New Haven Public Schools calendar. Students are expected to bring their own New Haven Public Schools-provided Chromebook, iPad or laptop, and the school district will provide breakfast and lunch. 

The three new city-run learning hubs are not the first of its kind in New Haven. ConnCat, First Calvary Baptist Church and the New Haven YMCA have set up free “safe spaces” for students, which have been active since the beginning of September. The Boys and Girls Club of New Haven has also offered a space for students to go to during the school day since early September –– but at the cost of $300 dollars for 10 weeks of services.

New Haven Public Schools is the only school district in the state of Connecticut that started the school year with fully remote learning.

Christian Robles | christian.robles@yale.edu