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Third Scholastic Support Center Opens to Serve CHCCS Elementary Students

From the day the transition to remote learning was announced in mid-March, many Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools staff, families and local community members voiced concern about how to meet the health and educational needs of our under-resourced students. The almost immediate creation of Food for Students addressed children’s nutritional needs, but the avenues for providing child care and academic support to children at home have been harder to identify and tackle. After much district and community-wide planning over the summer, two Scholastic Support Centers opened in early September in collaboration with the YMCA of the Triangle and the Town of Chapel Hill. On October 12, a third center opened at University United Methodist Church (UUMC) with the addition of a broad coalition of faith based organizations at the helm. 

The model for providing remote learning centers was built from the existing Scholastic Support Centers operated by the YMCA of the Triangle. Leadership teams from CHCCS and the YMCA held numerous meetings to plan out the program details, including staffing, student registration, bus transportation and meals. In August, Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services Jessica O’Donovan presented a proposal to the School Board to open two remote learning centers at Hargraves Center and the Community Center. The proposal was approved, and plans were immediately underway to serve approximately 100 K-5 students with free child care, support with remote learning and enrichment activities.

at UUMC support center Student eligibility for the Support Centers is based on academic priority segments. These segments are student assignment geographical locations where student historical academic achievement is 2.5 or below (the standard is Level 3) on End-of-Grade Reading and Math assessments. 

The Hargraves site is operated by Director of CHCCS Community Schools, Scott Fearrington, and Randy Smith, Senior Youth Director of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA. The Community Center site is supervised by Diana Hamer of CHCCS Community Schools, along with YMCA site leaders. The staff is comprised of CHCCS Community Schools (many of them are after school site directors), the YMCA and a small number of Transportation Department employees. 

Once the initial challenges of developing the first two centers lessened and the slots filled, the need for an additional site to serve more students became clear. That’s when Rev. Justin Coleman of UUMC and a large group of faith leaders stepped up to help fund and operate the third center. On October 12, the Franklin Street church opened its doors and Sunday School classrooms to 50 more students. Chris Faison, a former social studies teacher at Chapel Hill High School and a current PhD candidate at N.C. State, was appointed as the Site Director.  The YMCA has also hired pod leaders from UNC, NCCU and other community members.

The sites operate Monday-Friday from 7:45 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. for students who can access parent drop-off/pick-up, or until 3:15 p.m. for students returning home by bus. The measures to minimize risk of Covid transmission are stringent and closely monitored. When children arrive at the start of the day, staff checks their temperature, helps them wash their hands and gives them breakfast. Everyone practices social distancing and is masked, and if a child’s mask slips askew, a staff person gently reminds the student to maintain proper placement. 

Once the academic day opens, children work in learning pods, with up to 10 students in each group. The staff helps younger students sign onto their Chromebooks and I-Pads to identify each day’s lessons, and the learning begins. Students who need additional support are matched with academic helpers who can spend extra time to review each lesson, one at a time. At the Hargraves site alone, 60 students have 45 different schedules to follow, so every staff member has quickly become time-management assistants, in addition to everything else they must do.

Comm Center support Fearrington said the range of lessons students are engaged in at any time can create a lively one-room schoolhouse effect. “You look over to one part of the room where a few children are doing push-ups for PE,” he said. “Other students are doing math, reading or other specials, including art or Spanish.”

Rev. Coleman and the UUMC site director, Faison, both agree their first week of operation was often a challenge. “Of all the dots there are to connect-- the schools, the teachers, students and site staff members -- it’s a lot. But it is getting better everyday,” Coleman said.

The primary instructional block runs from 8:00-11:00 a.m., when Child Nutrition lunch service begins. All groups eat outside, weather permitting, and they spend a full hour away from their computers and assignments before returning for further classroom meetings or enrichment activities. The Town of Chapel Hill has been providing afternoon events, like a K-9 presentation with the Chapel Hill Police Department. The Child Nutrition team has also offered special events, like a Pico de Gallo cooking demonstration and sampling, led by district chef, Jordan Keyser. Both Book Harvest and the Chapel Hill Public Library have been dropping off books for students to enjoy during free time.

Smith spotlighted the impact of the collaboration between the Chapel Hill Y and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. “Together, we have been aiding 150 students, who were identified by the district needing additional academic support, across three different Scholastic Support Centers in Chapel Hill. Teachers and social workers have informed us of the drastic improvements they have seen with their students in assignment completion and attendance in live sessions.” 

O’Donovan concurred, adding, “We are so fortunate to have such a strong partnership with the YMCA, the Town of Chapel Hill, and our faith-based community to provide this much needed support for our students and families during an incredibly challenging time."