Josephine Steuer Ingall, Contributing Photographer

New Haven’s three newest learning hubs are up and running, bringing much needed educational support and child care to New Haven Public Schools families.

The newest hubs opened at Barnard Nature Center, Trowbridge Environmental Center and Coogan Pavilion on Monday. They quickly filled up due to the high demand for learning environments outside of homes. Less than a week in, parents and on-site staffers alike have lauded the program’s performance, citing on-site academic support for students, access to WiFi and the socially distanced environment.

The learning hubs are a result of months of coordination between the city of New Haven and local nonprofits. These organizations came together in August with a plan to establish at least 15 learning hubs that will supplement existing sites managed by other local groups, including the Boys and Girls Club of New Haven. The city-run hubs are overseen by New Haven Parks and Recreation staff and provide students with breakfast and lunch.

“It’s helping out a lot of parents — not only the parents, but also the kids,” said Johanna Santiago, a mother and New Haven resident. “There’s people here, counselors, who help them out.”

Josephine Steuer Ingall, Contributing Photographer

Last week, interested parents were asked to fill out a “common application” so that their child could be seated at one of the first three learning hubs. Students who were not assigned to a hub for the hubs’ first week in operation will be accepted into future centers on a rolling basis.

The new program has offered parents like Santiago a way for their kids to complete their schoolwork in a supervised setting. In interviews with the News, parents of student participants said the decision to send their children to learning hubs came after they considered the risks of exposure to COVID-19 alongside the benefits of academic supervision for their children.

Santiago said the space’s reduced density and mandated mask-wearing led her to conclude that the hub was reasonably safe.

Her son, Jeremiah Santiago, said that he has felt supported during his time at the learning hub. “I just do my schoolwork,” he said. “It keeps me more concentrated, and if I need help, I can just ask them and they’ll help me.”

Ernie Cloman, a Parks and Recreation Department employee who serves as the remote learning coordinator at the Coogan Pavilion learning hub, told the News that the hubs are essential because “some of the kids need a little extra help, an extra nudge to pay attention.”

“This idea was perfect,” Cloman said. “This was the absolute best thing that could have happened to the city. Kids get to do their learning and instruction, and they get our help and support. They get to make friends. There are maybe two kids to a table and there is excellent social distancing. It worked out by itself.”

Cloman noted that COVID-19 has exacerbated educational inequity and undermined curricular engagement for low-income youth. Several students at the learning hub reported that they did not have WiFi at home. He added that the learning centers have offered parents a much-needed opportunity for childcare in a safe environment.

Yazmyn Roman, New Haven nurse and parent of a child attending the Barnard Nature Center learning hub, told the News that caring for her kids at home during the school day had become a challenge over the first weeks of school, due in part to internet connectivity issues and insufficient time to properly monitor their child’s distance learning due to work obligations.

“I decided to put my son in the learning hub because I feel like he needs more people around him,” Roman said. “Right now he’s cooped up in the house, plus the WiFi keeps crashing all the time. They have breakfast and lunch and they know how to take care of kids.”

The city has announced its plans to open more community learning hubs at the Fair Haven, Mitchell, Wilson and Stetson branches of the New Haven Free Public Library soon. It has also expressed its intention to establish hubs at East Shore Park and Edgerton Park in the future.

New Haven Public Schools started the school year virtually on Aug. 30.

Christian Robles | christian.robles@yale.edu

Josephine Steuer Ingall | josephine.steueringall@yale.edu

Lukas Nel | lukas.nel@yale.edu