Remote learning centers help neighborhood kids
On the Westside, a local nonprofit is providing a safe place for 28 neighborhood kids to learn remotely, avoid spreading COVID-19 and, most importantly, be kids again.
The Turner Foundation typically provides safe, secure affordable housing to low-income individuals, families and seniors as well as after-school education and enrichment programs for resident youth.
Once COVID-19 hit and Santa Barbara shut down, the foundation began providing tutoring and other programs via Zoom.
However, when remote learning became a quick reality for local students, staff at the Turner Foundation saw a need for a place for kids to go where they could receive the help they couldn’t get at home.
So, in September, two remote learning centers were created on the Westside: one at The Village apartment complex on West Canon Perdido and one at The Lighthouse apartment complex on Micheltorena.
“What we noticed is kids during March would not attend the tutoring classes, so we wanted to make sure the kids were succeeding in the fall as they were going into the school year,” said Mavel Tortoledo, the director of Community Learning Centers, one of the programs provided by the Turner Foundation.
The centers quickly maxed out, with 18 students at The Village and 10 at The Lighthouse.
The programs are only offered to kids who live in the apartment complexes, giving students the ability to simply walk over from their family’s apartment rather than needing to be dropped off.
From first grade through senior year of high school, the kids attend the centers from 8:15 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday, and a few high schoolers come back after their lunch break for a few hours to finish their work.
“What’s been our biggest goal is to make sure that we are communicating with the teachers and parents to make sure they’re succeeding and make sure they have a support system,” Ms. Tortoledo told the News-Press. “We’re trying to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks.”
The centers are certified by Santa Barbara County RISE. They’re complete with open windows and doors, a seating area outside, social distancing, dividers, masks required at all times and breaks every hour to sanitize. Staff places students according to grades and sits them next to their siblings if they have any.
Then staff members monitor the students, help them with assignments, answer questions, check their grades and ensure they are on task.
“A lot of kids do their work — they just forget to turn it in,” Ms. Tortoledo said. “It’s very common.”
The program also has a system online where staff checks in each kid when they arrive at the center, and parents can check their phone to see if their child has been checked in. Ms. Tortoledo said that for the most part, the learning centers have a “really good percentage of attendance.”
“Some parents just said, ‘Even if you only help us one or two days, that’s better than nothing. I don’t know how else to support them,’” she continued. “A lot of our parents are Spanish-speaking, and they just don’t know what they should be doing because everything is in English.
“The fact that we’re right here — they can just walk in here from their house in the morning, not having to worry about being around crowds,” Ms. Tortoledo said. “This is a community. It’s their home.”
Erica Kent, the program leader, is one of the staff members who directly assists the students, especially those who need a little extra support.
“Santa Barbara needs to do more things like this because we’ve seen such a difference in their motivation, their grades and them learning how to socialize again. They kind of forgot that when they came back the first month,” Ms. Kent told the News-Press.
She said she even goes outside with the kids on their breaks and plays tag and red-light green- light with them.
According to Ms. Kent, many of the students come from families with more than one sibling, typically three or four, and live in small apartments. On top of that, many parents work multiple jobs.
“When we weren’t open but preparing for them to come back … We saw their grades and they were mostly failing,” she said. “When they were home, they didn’t have a lot of accountability.”
While the structure of the learning centers has led students to take ownership of their work, Ms. Kent said she thinks the social interaction is just as important.
“They only see their siblings at home or no one at all. It gets really isolated and really lonely,” she said. “It’s super important to have that social interaction.”
“I know we regressed back into the purple tier, but I think it’s really good that kids go back, even if they can’t be in a public classroom setting, that they can be in some kind of learning center,” Ms. Kent said. “We’re one of the few places that’s actually doing this, and it’s really important for these kids to get that classroom model and social interaction versus at home. They (the parents) know they (the kids) are in good hands here.”
In addition to the academic side of the learning centers, students also get to tap into their creative and artistic side with the Music and Imagination Program, a free after-school music program from 2 to 6 p.m.
David Rojas, the director of music and programs, does one-on-one music instruction and directs a youth jazz band with six kids. Students rehearse on the patio with donated face shields.
One-on-one lessons are Monday through Thursday, and the jazz band rehearses Wednesdays and Fridays.
The band consists of a guitarist, keyboardist, drummer, trumpet player, bass player and vocalist. The drummer is the youngest in the group at age 10.
“One of our kids told me that he really appreciates the opportunity to express himself and to be heard, and also get the opportunity to relieve his stress. Those are his words,” Mr. Rojas told the News-Press. “We didn’t get into what those stresses are exactly, but obviously it’s probably many things — school online and not being able to see friends and family.”
He said that the opportunity for the kids to hop on quality instruments allows them to let their emotions out, and he thinks it fills other areas of their lives too.
“I truly love facilitating meaningful experiences and rewarding ones as well,” Mr. Rojas said. “What that really means is providing the opportunity for kids to take on genuine decision making, and I think that’s what music does, and me being able to see these kids come out of their shells and mature into the people they’re about to become through music is very significant for me as an instructor and as a mentor.”
The Turner Foundation is seeking volunteers, so email Ms. Tortoledo at email@example.com if interested.