COVID-19 has been hard on a lot of people, particularly kids trying to learn.
“There is a huge need for education, just with the gap that was naturally created through remote learning,” said Ryan Yates, director of after-school programs for the faith-based community group BLOC Ministries.
Yates and other community partners are trying to fill that gap by making sure kids in the Price Hill neighborhood have the internet access they need. BLOC has taken space in one of its buildings used for weightlifting and turned it into an education center for students who are learning at home in Price Hill. The space is equipped with about 15 laptops and individual, socially distanced spaces to encourage learning without disruptions.
“Especially with COVID and the remote learning, kids were running into internet issues where their internet wasn’t fast enough," said Yates. "Or, they were running into technological issues, like their laptops broke or their chargers weren’t working properly.”
College Hill-based DWK Construction did all of the work converting the space at cost. Brian Marcum with Golden Technology provided the refurbished laptops for the program, which is designed to help students get their school assignments finished.
“We wanted a place where the children would want to come to,” Marcum said. “There will always be someone here at this facility when the children are here. So, there will be at least one or two adults supervising and overseeing the kids.”
The plan is to have the center open at least two days a week by October, according to Yates. He said they are still coordinating the schedule.
“We’re going to have tutors, and (we) partnered with the local schools and have teachers come in, so that way if kids can’t go to the buildings, they can come here and teachers can meet here,” said Yates.
BLOC has been in Price Hill for nearly 20 years. They purchased the building on West Liberty Street and turned a portion of it into space for after-school programs.
“We’ve got about 75 kids on the roster, and those are kids that we know their names and we know their families and we’re doing life with,” Yates said.
The space where the education center is now located had been a weight room for years. Now, with so many students relying on internet access to complete their school work, Yates said they knew they had to do something else.
"We realized that when there were these gaps that were naturally created with kids and technology, we needed to be willing to step into the gap and to meet the needs that were there and create another service like the Education Center,” said Yates.
Other gaps they are prepared to fill include providing snacks for students, making sure their online access is safe from inappropriate websites and taking precautions against COVID-19.
“We did get out the measurements to make sure everything is six foot apart," said Marcum. "They will have a bucket of masks over here that every child will have to put on to come into the space.”
Marcum said there were challenges with bringing internet access to the building, which is estimated to be about 100 years old.
“There were a lot of hiccups just taking a building that’s this old and bringing it up to a fashion where it’s safe and also beautiful,” said Marcum. “(While) still trying to develop a high-speed space where kids today want to have that instant internet.”
In addition to having access to the laptops, the space is designed to inspire learning. The walls are decorated with hand-drawn leaf patterns, and insects drawn by a student from the neighborhood. There are framed messages of encouragement, and a connected space offers a cushioned window seat for students to have a quiet space to read or study.
“What we really want to do is we want to be as intentional as we can with the kids that are currently coming and provide them with the resources that they need to succeed this academic year,” said Yates.
A cookout and soft opening is planned for Saturday, Oct. 3, in the neighborhood.