“You know, he might not like it here.”
That was the first thing his mother told me when she brought her son to Solar Youth’s Fair Haven Learning Hub on his first day. “The pandemic has been hard for him. He spends most times at home with just me and him. I’m not sure if we will be able to make friends here like he used to.”
This was a common concern we heard when the Solar Youth Learning Hubs first opened. For nearly a year, schools had been shut down in the New Haven area, and many families feared their children were missing out on key social interaction.
When her son first entered the classroom, he did seem scared to interact with the other students. He stuck to himself, even when all his online classes ended and we were just playing games. That is, until someone drew an anime character during Pictionary! Once he saw something that sparked his interest, it was as if a switch went off in his head. He started participating in every game, talking with every student, and even introduced games we had not even heard of.
When his mother came to pick him up and her son told her about his day, her smile told us that she knew everything was going to be okay.
Solar Youth Learning Hubs were developed as part of the New Haven Learning Hub Collective founded this fall by a group of organizations and individuals concerned about the social and economic impact of remote learning on our City’s children. Whether it is lack of food security, internet access, or adult supervision, the Learning Hubs are designed to help those that may be disproportionately affected by the shift to distance learning. With 24 currently operating across the City, they are safe spaces for children to go before, during, and after the school day for supervised distance learning with high-speed internet access, social support, and enrichment. It is also at no cost to the families!
In February, Solar Youth opened 2 Hubs - one in West Rock on Blake Street, and the other in Fair Haven (in collaboration with Music Haven). Through the Hubs, we have seen an increase in our students’ attendance and grades, and our students grow to become more self-reliant and confident. This is because our activities and programs are not just meant to be fun, but to also impart personal lessons to help them learn more about themselves and how to help their communities.
Of course, we have faced some challenges. With the transition to hybrid learning models in the public schools, the Hubs have had to adjust to our students being here only a few days a week. And while this may have caused us to change strategies in terms of COVID prevention, this transitioning to hybrid learning ended up being somewhat of a strength for our Hubs, as it has allowed us to tailor our scheduling of activities to best meet the students that are in attendance each day.
Another challenge we faced was the transportation concerns of our families. As the Learning Hubs were opening, many families did not have the transportation means to participate. However, due to the youth support workers going above and beyond, we were able to make accommodations for the families, by helping them plan bus routes with employee accompaniment and by extending pick up and drop off times. We are currently working on providing even more transportation options, which will help alleviate most barriers to accessibility.
As the COVID-19 pandemic is improving, and schools are beginning to reintroduce in-person learning, we at the Solar Youth Learning Hubs recognize that our services must change to reflect the needs of our youth and families.
In the coming weeks we will consolidate to one Hub, and offer after care programs into our Learning Hubs, extending our hours from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm. We will continue to provide learning assistance for those who need it, but our services will also expand to include a wider range of activities. We are excited to share more about these changes with you as they develop, so please keep an eye out for future updates!
To learn more and see what Yale's Daily News had to say about our learning hubs, click the link!