Razel Suansing

At the Board of Alders Youth and Youth Services Committee Zoom meeting on Wednesday night, the Youth Services Department discussed the challenges in addressing educational disparities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This winter, the department is planning on opening nine more community learning hubs in New Haven. Community learning hubs are a citywide initiative to open safe spaces throughout the city to give students access to technology for online learning. On Monday, the department opened its first three learning hubs to support elementary school students in Coogan Pavilion, Barnard Nature Center and Trowbridge Square. The learning hubs are running their first module from Oct. 5 to Dec. 18 and will continue the next module from Jan. 4 to June 4.

The Youth Services Department is aiming to open nine more centers in the winter. However, the YSD could not provide an exact date for the opening for the new hubs to the alders because the New Haven Health Department was not satisfied with the health conditions in other proposed venues for the new hubs.

During the meeting, department leaders spoke about the logistical difficulties they were facing in finding venues that abided by public health guidelines during the winter.

“[The proposed venues] don’t have the kind of ventilation that is required by the health department and the state,” said Felicia Shashinka, the manager of the  learning hubs. “What we need to do is figure out how to get different filters in there, how to get some windows open and how to make the space a safe place for the kids before we can open.”

When asked by Ward 21 Alder Steven Winter to elaborate on the challenges the cold weather posed on health protocols, Shashinka said that the department needed to find new locations that have sufficient ventilation and enough space to accommodate 20 children while following social distancing guidelines. She called for any individuals who knew of such spaces to contact the YSD through email.

Shashinka also added that the mobile hotspots for network connectivity had to be moved into the new buildings and sanitized regularly. The three open hubs clean their hotspots five times a day.

Ward 29 Alder Brian Wingate lauded the YSD’s efforts to open the hubs and support students in the Elm City. He particularly praised Gwendolyn Busch Williams, the newly elected Department of Youth Services director, for her role in launching the first learning hubs.

“I wanted to give the director big props for getting on the opportunity to lead this way,” Wingate said. “I know she is comfortable and capable of doing the job.”

Williams also introduced some new initiatives during the meeting –– specifically the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative Grant Program, which aims to expand economic opportunities for youth in New Haven. Williams also stated that the YSD was continuing some of its signature programs, such as the “Youth at Work” program and a departmental program for students to work in COVID-19 related jobs.

The next Board of Alders Youth and Youth Services Committee meeting is scheduled for Nov. 4.

Razel Suansing | razel.suansing@yale.edu