By Caroline Lanni
FRAMINGHAM – While parents are heading back to work, some families are having a hard time balancing schedules with going to work either at home or not and helping their kids in remote schooling all at the same time. Some families are also having a hard time trying to supply their children with a sufficient tool and learning environment at home to excel in school learning.
Framingham Citizen Participation Officer Alaa Abusalah said, “The City of Framingham was awarded $475,600 from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the Remote Learning Support Services [RLSS] grant to help those families.
“The purpose of the RLSS grant program is to promote and support equitable access to affordable, safe, and supportive environments for children to engage remotely in instructional time during the school day,” said Abusalah.
The grant money also came from the Federal CARES [The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act, Coronavirus Relief Fund, and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, to make Learning [Hubs] areas, safe learning environments, and accessible places for students to learn and do their schoolwork at city organizations all around Framingham.
The Framingham Public Schools are facilitating and monitoring the learning hubs for the City of Framingham for those who need specific permits to operate those hubs.
The Framingham Public School District provides school supplies to the organizations that are holding the learning hubs for their students during the school hours.
Those organizations holding the learning hubs consist of the Boys and Girls Club of MetroWest, First Circle Learning Center, Hoops and Homework, Pelham Lifelong Learning Center, SMOC/Suburban [South Middlesex Opportunity Council], The Teddy Bear Village Child Care Center, and MetroWest YMCA.
“As the Lead Applicant, the City worked with organizations to identify potential designated recipients and allocate funds. The Mayor’s Office, Office of Administration & Finance, Department of Public Health, and Framingham Public Schools facilitated the process convening Early Education and Care licensed providers to collaborate and understand how best to support remote learners who cannot engage successfully in remote learning from home during the school day. Sharing challenges, ideas, and feedback allowed us to support capacity building that enabled partners to meaningfully tailor services based on unique needs,” said the Citizen Participation Officer.
Remote learning causes many challenges for organizations. Such as, operational support in classrooms, salary support for additional staff, PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], Wi-Fi accessibility, physical space, and attendance cost for “economically disadvantaged families,” said Abusalah. “Through these efforts, the Boys and Girls Club of MetroWest was able to serve up to 40 children. The First Circle Learning Center pivoted to expand services and deliver support for school aged children, offer financial assistance for low-income families, and provide additional staff support. Hoops and Homework provided scholarships for children already involved in the program and served an additional 15 kids.”
The Pelham Life-Long Learning Center served 27 children at no cost to families, said Abusalah.
SMOC and the Suburban Center that was already working with 104 children, hired additional staff, and was able to serve 20 additional children, said the City’s CPO.
The Teddy Bear Village Child Care Center sustained nine and added nine new members, said said Abusalah.
The MetroWest YMCA sustained 32 and added 20 new students to their program, said the citizen participation officer.
The Remote Learning Support Services program, “highlights the value of collaboration and the power of working together to make a difference in the lives of Framingham families.”
The Framingham Public School District’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Community Development “in partnership with CRD [Central Registration Depository] convened community partners to assess their capacity and interest in developing community learning hubs. The hubs offer families with adult supervised education spaces where kids can learn remotely.
In collaboration with Alaa Abusalah and Framingham Assistant Health Director Alex Depalo, and the City’s CFO Mary Ellen Kelley, the Framingham Public School District’s Office of Equity, Diversity (OEDCD), and Community Development developed a grant application for community partners to review their requests for funding.
“Several community organizations received funds to operate learning hubs ranging from $25,000 to $100,000. The OEDCD also serves as the municipal approving authority for the City of Framingham. As such we review, approve and monitor learning hubs sites who require a special permit for operations,” according to a district email.
Framingham Assistant Superintendent for Equity, Diversity, and Community Development Joseph Corazzini said from the program identification form [designated recipients list] it showed each organization and what funding from the grant was allocated to each one for the remote learning support grant.
The Boys and Girls Club of MetroWest received $85,600, said Corazzini.
First Circle Learning Center received $25,546, said Corazzini.
Hoops and Homework received $50,000, said Corazzini.
Pelham Lifelong Learning Center received $75,126.34, said Corazzini.
SMOC/Suburban received $99,873.40, said the assistant superintendent.
The Teddy Bear Village Child Care Center received $44,727.26, said Corazzini.
MetroWest YMCA received $94,727 from the grant, said Corazzini.
“Initially the state told us to spend it by December then later changed it to June – once we awarded funds the state mailed checks directly to the providers,” said Corazzini.
The sites [the organizations with the hubs] all had varying start dates for the learning hubs to open, but some opened as early as September.
“The funds helped to expand some of the existing hub sites,” like Pelham that started before the grant even existed, said Corazzini.
The state grant allows organizations to “either expand the number of kids – or to apply the funds towards programming to explaining the amount of time that they can service, said Corazzini, who added that the money they [the office] gave to the individual sites was their
commitment to try and keep the programs open as long as they could.
“There was no commitment [no requirement] in terms of ending,” said Corazzini.
The idea of the learning hubs and using that grant money was to support organizations trying to do this work for the students and hoping to continue these programs with the funding since the cost for out of school time is, “a very small drop in the budget,” said Corazzini.
The Assistant Superintendent of Schools thinks all the organizations are still running the programs, and the funds were used to “subsidize or stretch the resources so kids in the programs can stay longer.”
The hub sites are looking to their goals and are shaping themselves and their services for the students heading back to school, since elementary students have been back since April 5, and soon for secondary students on April 28.
Corazzini said organizations helped students in different ways.
“For some sites they use the dollars to essentially, for scholarship kids to participate in programs, and for other sites they ran full day length programs that were new programs – and what they provided was the funding allowed just coverage during the hours of the school day so it didn’t allow before school and after school, so basically those programs identified and created a space for kids whose parents couldn’t be home [they had to work] and to create that space for them for however long they could with the funding to have an educational school space where kids can learn,” said Corazzini. “At The Pelham Learning Center, students there are equipped with Chromebooks. The staff is there to help the students when needed, provide them with food, and services for them during a school day to make sure they are “engaged.”
Corazzini said if these places [the learning hubs] were not available, some kids could be at home unsupervised or the parents would have to leave work early, during the pandemic.
The goal of the learning hubs is to “increase supervised educational space for kids,” said Corazzini.
No additional programming was added, and its main focus is to make sure students are staying “engaged in learning,” Corazzini added.
The Framingham Public School District’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Community Development sent out an email about who [what organizations] would be interested in holding the spaces for the learning hubs and what those places would do with the funds given to
them if they were selected for the hubs.
“This crisis has put a lot of families out of work and a lot of the non-profit organizations [organizations in the community] thankfully stepped up,” said Corazzini.
“The money was very small, and it was given to us in a very short timeline,” he said.
They had to create a process for organizations applying, a process for reviewing them, to figure out the language of the grant, and have clear communication from the state in the matter of weeks during the pandemic.
Corazzini said the organizations wanted to help the families and “the funding was critical, wasn’t a lot, but enough to at least give some level of programming” to help the “vulnerable students. “We tried to the best of our ability to maintain those connections [those organizations] and get [school] supplies out that need those supplies to those available sites,” said Corazzini.
The district is “extremely thankful to all the community partners who participated and provided access,’ said Corazzini, who added it is important that students have that space that is safe, supervised, food, and resources available to learn.
It is good to have the adults at the organizations to give feedback to the schools and families about the students and what they are struggling with to help them during the school day, said Corazzini.
“I am hopeful that people will recognize the power of out of school time, and the influence of these developmental programs,” and being focused on the social emotional needs of the students, said the Assistant Superintendent of Schools.
This is great collaboration between the city, the schools, and everyone involved.
Corazzini said he is hoping they will be continuing a similar program in the summer with the organizations and with some grants to continue school programs for students in the summertime.
Boys and Girls Club of MetroWest Marketing Manager Gina Gentile said, they hosted a remote learning support site in Framingham starting in September through April 5 for about 40 youths per week.
Gentile said that the club provided more than $125,000 in financial assistance towards families that needed assistance.
They have transitioned back to their standard after-school programming since elementary students are actively heading back into school.
“The program provided a safe place for parents to send their youth and for youth to spend their days, the academic support that youth needed to be successful, and the social-emotional support and physical activity that youth needed to overcome the stressors caused by COVID-19,” said Gentile.
The Boys and Girls Club will reopen on May 5, due to renovations being done, and are still accepting registrations, she added.
Executive Director at Pelham Life Long Learning Center Maria Rosado, said that they have “not completely closed the program” at their Center, even though their 20 students have returned to school because the situation could rise or get worse again.
“They will have to return to RLEP before the end of this school year. I hope that is not the case but unfortunately, it is a big concern for us. We are prepared to continue providing the students with one-on-one support, recreational activities, access to Wi-Fi and healthy meals
at no cost should things change,” said Rosado.
MetroWest YMCA Chief Operating Officer Jeanne Sherlock said “We are proud of our efforts to work alongside our partners in the City to be sure our kids were cared for and supported in ways we have never had to do before. They are quite resilient, and we are certain they are thriving being back in school.”
“We used the Remote Learning Support Service grant to provide financial assistance to families, for necessary additional staff support for
assisting kids with their school schedules and managing breaks, room specific air cleaners, and PPE and cleaning supplies,” she said. “In Framingham, we serviced 104 children in remote learning. We also ran sites in other towns [Ashland, Hopkinton, Framingham, Natick, and Wayland] and collectively we served 275 children.
The YMCA started their learning hub when children went back to school and for Framingham the start date was September 16, 2020, said Sherlock.
“The first day that any of our remote learning programs operated was September 14, All of them ended on April 2, 2021. We are not currently providing full day remote learning support since that was not a need of our families, Sherlock said.
We transitioned into providing before and after school programming on school days and are now serving over 50 families in before
and/or after school at the YMCA and at Hemenway Elementary School,” she added.
The YMCA’s remote learning programs provided, “a safe place where families could have their children engage in remote learning with support, nurturing, and encouragement from adults to help them stay on task, attend scheduled synchronous learning, complete asynchronous learning, receive a free and healthy breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack daily, be physically active, and have opportunities to interact with peers within COVID-19 guidelines,” Sherlock said.
Caroline Lanni is a 2021 SOURCE intern. She is a senior at Framingham State University, who will graduate in May.