Community Learning Hubs: Meeting the Needs of Students & Families

As the pandemic swept across the country, disrupting school, upending students’ and families’ lives, and exponentially increasing demand for food and well-being supports, afterschool programs and community organizations came together to create Community Learning Hubs. Seeking innovative solutions to provide more students with access to in-person, safe learning opportunities, organizations ranging from national programs, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, YMCA, and Beacons Centers to smaller, local community providers pioneered new models to open their program doors to all children. These efforts resulted in Community Learning Hubs, which unlike afterschool programs, operate all day long for students whose schools are on hybrid or all virtual schedules.

Community Learning Hubs are community-driven efforts to support students’ learning and well-being, providing safe places to connect to school, caring adults, and additional services. Community Learning Hubs have become a lifeline for students that are in all virtual and/or hybrid school models – giving them a safe place to be throughout the day and in some cases evenings. For many of these students, learning at home is difficult or impossible for a variety of reasons; and for all students, hubs present an essential opportunity to connect with other students and caring adults, and have access to virtual academics and in-person, socially distanced enrichment in an environment that follows strict COVID safety protocols. Hubs leverage facilities and partnerships in new ways to offer easily accessible locations staffed by community leaders, caring educators, and youth development experts. Often, they are located within walking distance of residential areas and tap staff from afterschool providers.

To understand how afterschool programs are serving children and youth in Community Learning Hubs, we conducted interviews with 32 afterschool programs, intermediaries, or school districts in 18 states. The interviewed programs represent the diversity of the afterschool field and encompass programs located in urban, rural, and suburban communities. As we continue to work with afterschool programs hosting Community Learning Hubs, we intend to expand this document and the examples reflected within it.

This resource provides key considerations in creating Hubs, as well as lessons learned to inform the robust supports needed for students’ recovery post-pandemic. Created in partnership with the National League of Cities, it builds on the foundation outlined in the report, "Building Community Learning Hubs."

Community Partnerships

As the COVID-19 pandemic upended our education system, communities have stepped up to continue to support youth and their families. Collaboration across school districts, community organizations, the private sector, faith-based organizations, and philanthropies have helped ensure that youth still have access to critical supports. Community partnerships have been facilitating access to meals, educational resources, social and emotional supports, as well as helping children and youth successfully participate in virtual learning. These collaborations are largely responsible for the success of Community Learning Hubs. Partnerships with community-based organizations can not only provide facilities, enrichment programming, funding, PPE supplies, and additional resources and services, but also can help address the immediate and most pressing needs of youth and their families, working together to meet those needs. Additionally, partnering with schools and school districts allows Community Learning Hubs to best support virtual learning and engage students to ensure they continue to learn throughout the pandemic.

These partnerships can take on different forms depending on the organization that is leading the work.

Afterschool intermediary-led partnerships

Intermediaries are organizations and initiatives that coordinate and establish relationships between schools, community-based organizations, afterschool programs, and other entities in their communities. Due to their role in supporting city-wide afterschool program networks, intermediaries are a natural fit to coordinate Community Learning Hubs. Below are some examples:

The Kalamazoo Youth Development Network in Michigan is working with community partners to provide enrichment activities for their students, including a nature center in one neighborhood for science activities and various art organizations providing virtual art activities. The network was also able to coordinate fundraising efforts to raise money to support the hubs.
Madison Out of School Time in Wisconsin utilized their relationship with the school district to support Community Learning Hubs. The intermediary is a part of the city government, so they were well-positioned to work with the school district to provide meals, snacks, nurses for COVID-19 screenings, and social workers, among other resources for participating programs.
MyCom in Cleveland, Ohio, coordinated an organized effort among afterschool programs in their community. The intermediary funded 32 organizations to host Community Learning Hubs, or pods. The pods are hosted by organizations with a wide variety of experiences, including seasoned out-of-school time professionals and new organizations. MyCom coordinated a community of practice for the programs, with weekly calls to provide professional development. As an intermediary, MyCom was also able to coordinate relationships between the school district and the programs, which helped with placing children and youth into programs in their communities.

School district–afterschool program partnerships

School districts have access to resources such as physical space, transportation, meals, and PPE, which they can use to support afterschool programs hosting Community Learning Hubs. 

Portland Public Schools – In Portland, Maine, many community organizations, such as at Breakwater School and Portland Community Squash, are working in partnership with Portland Public Schools. Portland Public Schools are providing meals, and organizations are using a combination of charter busses and school-provided busses to transport students to and from the programs. The district emphasized that to best utilize community partnerships, community partners should be assigned to certain schools. As communication between community partners can be a struggle, the program advises instituting a centralized place for partners to share information and connect.

Community organization-led partnerships

Community-based organizations, including afterschool and youth development programs, have deep roots and long-standing relationships in their communities. Examples of how community-based organizations support Community Learning Hubs include:

San Francisco Beacons – San Francisco Beacons worked with the city’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families to coordinate the country’s first Community Learning Hubs. To divide up the work of managing the Community Learning Hubs, Beacons provided coordination to the community-based organizations providing programming and staffing to the hubs, while DCYF coordinated the facilities, distribution of PPE, and funding.
Fleet Science Center – The Fleet Science Center in San Diego, California, worked with community partners to identify families who needed support the most.
YMCA of Rouge Valley – The YMCA of Rogue Valley partnered with four school districts in the region to host hubs in their schools. Additionally, in partnership with their local children’s museum, the YMCA received funding for programs held in conjunction with the museum.

Access to technology

Many schools and school districts are continuing to operate virtually or with a hybrid model. With learning largely dependent on students’ ability to access the internet, the digital divide is more apparent now than ever. While many students have devices at home to complete their school work and internet access to connect with their teachers and peers, many others do not. This is particularly true of students of color, students living in rural areas, or students living in high-poverty areas, and as a result, these students are more likely to be left out of online learning. Community Learning Hubs are one way to help address the digital divide and ensure that all students are able to continue learning, regardless of resources at home. While many school districts have provided laptops or other devices, successful at-home learning often requires more than just a device.

Community Learning Hubs can:

 

Ensure connectivity by providing Wi-Fi or hotspots for students to use: While many program locations typically have some sort of internet connection, the YMCA of Middle Tennessee found that bandwidth became a challenge, and therefore purchased hotspots to improve connectivity for their students. The Kalamazoo Youth Development Network partnered with their local library, as well as other community partners, to provide hotspots to youth and continue to work through other aspects of the digital divide.
Supplement school district-provided technology for successful online learning: Programs such as Campfire Heartland in Kansas City and the Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket purchased headphones and charging cords for students. The programs note that, while the devices are essential for online learning, many students are unable to charge them at home, and chargers became a necessity. Additionally, the Curry Library in Golden Beach, Oregon, provided devices for students whose current laptops or tablets were not compatible with Microsoft Teams, the program their school was using for virtual learning.
Provide IT and other technical support: Even with proper devices and access to the internet, not everyone is knowledgeable on how to use technology. Newport News Parks and Rec Youth Program had an IT group provide additional internet support, and the Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket provided operation manuals and other support for parents to operate.

Learning Support

With schools largely operating remotely, Community Learning Hubs serve as a necessary component to support students during the learning day. While some students have a parent or guardian at home to help with virtual learning and have access to technology, not all do. Community Learning Hubs provide the necessary support, structure, and resources to ensure students can continue to learn effectively and parents can return to work. Currently, programs are operating with a staff-to-student ratio from 1:5 to 1:15 so that students not only have a safe space to complete their school work, but also have adults there to assist. In supporting students during the learning day, programs noted many things to consider. Most notably, students may be coming from multiple schools, have different schedules, and all require different levels of support. For example, as PAL NYC noted, younger students and students with disabilities typically require more support. Because of staff-to-student ratios, one-on-one attention is usually not possible; however, focusing on those students most in need can be beneficial. PAL NYC has some students who have staff members sit with them throughout the majority of the day.

Community Learning Hubs can also help support students during the virtual learning day by:

Helping with logging on, technical support, and other troubleshooting: Fleet Science Center has one lead educator and one assistant per group of students who help facilitate Zoom logins and provide tech support throughout the day, such as turning microphones on and off and any other troubleshooting.
Scheduling and keeping students on track: Younger students typically need more support staying focused and engaged throughout the day, and staff members at the Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket help manage schedules, keep kids on task, and provide brain breaks when needed for 8-10 students each. Students with other special needs or circumstances also need additional assistance to stay on track. For several students at Identity, a program focused on serving Latinx youth in Montgomery County, Maryland, this fall was their first experience with the American school system. Program staff helped students navigate their class schedules, communicate with teachers, and provide translation and clarification on assignments and lectures as needed.
Serving as an intermediary between the students, parents, and the school: While the YMCA of Nashville made it clear that the program staff are not teachers, staff members work closely with the teachers to check in on student lessons and update parents on student progress. Other programs also note that they consistently communicate and collaborate with their students’ teachers so that they can best support students as they engage in online learning.
Sample Community Learning Hubs Schedules

Community Learning Hubs, by design, serve the unique needs of their communities and students. The typical daily schedule for the hubs differ depending on whether or not the school district is virtual or following a hybrid schedule, where students periodically attend school in person.

Below are a couple of examples of how Community Learning Hubs arrange their daily schedules:

Virtual Schedule

In many school districts, classes are virtual. While each site has a different schedule, a typical daily schedule is similar to this:

7AM – 8AM – Participating children and youth arrive at the program. Upon arrival, nurses take temperatures and students or parents may be required to complete a health assessment survey.
8:30AM – 9AM – Children break into their pods and participate in “morning meetings” where they review their assignments and class schedule for the day.
9AM – 11:30AM – Children participate in virtual classes. Staff is on hand to provide support to students when needed, typically with technology or clarifying assignments. Brain breaks and recess may be built into the day, depending on student schedules, in order to provide some non-screen time.
11:30AM – 12:30PM – School lunch and recess are generally scheduled mid-day. In some communities, schools may sync all student schedules to have lunch and recess at the same time. In other communities, students may have lunch and recess at different times from their peers.
12:30PM – 3:30PM – Students return to virtual classes for the remainder of the regular school day. The afternoon is similar to the morning.
3:30PM – 5PM – Program transitions to afterschool. Students in the afterschool program participate in enrichment activities and typically receive an afterschool meal or snack.
5PM – Students are dismissed from the program. Staff clean and disinfect classrooms to ready them for use the next day.

Hybrid Schedule

Some communities are operating their schools on a hybrid schedule. There are several different ways school districts might utilize a hybrid schedule. According to one method, students are broken into different groups and assigned alternating days to attend school. Another system has one group of students attend in-person classes in the morning, while other students participate virtually. Midday, the groups switch. Below is the sample schedule for a Community Learning Hub in community where students alternate between in-person and virtual learning each day:

7:45AM - Students attending the Community Learning Hub for the morning session arrive at the program. Staff take temperatures on arrival to the program and may require students or their parents to complete a health assessment survey. Students are provided school breakfast.
8:00AM – 11:15AM – Students participate in classes either virtually or with teacher provided worksheets. Program staff members are on hand to help with work. Brain breaks and recess are periodically scheduled during this time period to give students a break from screen time.
11:15AM – 11:30AM – Morning students are dismissed from the program. Staff disinfect and clean classrooms prior to the next group of students arriving at school.
11:30AM – Afternoon students arrive at the Community Learning Hub. Staff take temperatures on arrival at the program and may require students or their parents to complete a health assessment survey. Students are provided school lunch.
12PM – 3:30PM – The afternoon program mirrors the morning program.
3:30PM – 5PM – The program then transitions to afterschool. Generally, students that participate in the afternoon session also attend the afterschool program. Students participate in hands-on, engaging enrichment activities during the afterschool program. They are also provided with an afterschool meal.
5PM – Students are dismissed from the program. Staff clean and disinfect classrooms in preparation for the next day.

Enrichment activities / non-screen time

With students engaging in virtual learning and more screen time than they previously have, Community Learning Hubs have found ways to engage students in enrichment activities outside of virtual learning. Many of these activities are designed with an emphasis on providing opportunities for non-screen time throughout the school day and when the school day ends. Below are some of the ways Community Learning Hubs can provide enrichment and non-screen time:

Socially distanced physical activities: One of the most common enrichment activities includes socially distanced physical activities and outdoor time. For example, Kama’aina Kids, which operates on the Big Island, Kauai, Maui, and O'ahu in Hawai'i, has provided opportunities for students to engage in Zumba and socially distanced sports. Portland Community Squash in Portland, Maine, provides opportunities for students in squash, yoga and other wellness-centered activities. Newport News Parks and Recreation Youth Programs in Newport News, Virginia, offers recreation throughout the day and all day on Wednesdays, when students don’t have virtual learning scheduled. This youth program provides opportunities for movement, games, and nature activities like exploring a terrarium. Their mornings start off with exercise, with every student having a designated exercise space.
Outdoor activities: Project Dream in Leadville, Colorado has also provided opportunities to get involved in outdoor activities. They partnered with Get Outdoors Leadville to lead students in outdoor activities and also partnered with a local greenhouse to teach students about plants. They also partnered with a local swimming pool to provide children with swim lessons. New Haven Parks and Recreation in New Haven, Connecticut provides enrichment opportunities for students after the school day through hiking and going on trails.
STEM & Arts Enrichment: Community Learning Hubs have also provided enrichment activities focused on STEM and art. When classes for students end at the Fleet Science Center in San Diego, California, students have access to STEM learning in the museum and the lead educator builds out a schedule of activities and programs for the students. The Kalamazoo Youth Development Network in Kalamazoo worked with community partners to provide enrichment activities to students, including partnering with local arts organizations to do virtual art activities. The Elkhart Boys and Girls Club in Elkhart, Indiana also has “Drawing Time” for students during which each student has a materials pack for only their use.
Social and Emotional Learning: Social-emotional learning (SEL) and mental health supports are other enrichment activities that hubs have made available to students. The Oklahoma Department of Health and Human Services Hope Centers across Oklahoma have provided mental health supports to students, include providing groups for basic SEL practices, such as mindfulness and meditation.
Socially distanced service learning: Identity in Gaithersburg, Maryland, has provided service learning opportunities to their students, which includes packing resource bags to use at food distribution hubs and packing items for holiday giving drives. They also have a Safety Ambassadors program, during which students receive seven weeks of training to become peer educators on COVID and related resources, offering a good opportunity for ESOL students to practice their English language skills and include as experience on their future resumes.
Literacy: Promoting literacy and language learning are other enrichment opportunities that hubs have provided. Curry Library in Golden Beach, Oregon, schedules 15 minutes of non-online reading in the morning. During lunch, student pods have time to go outside, with younger children having more structured activities and older youth having more flexible activities. Project Dream has taught Spanish literacy skills to native speakers and Spanish as a second language to English-speaking students.

 

Community Learning Hubs have provided more than a safe physical space and a support system for students who are navigating the new school day – they have provided opportunities for STEM learning, social and emotional development, outdoor play and more.

 

Safety

Health and safety is at the forefront of all Community Learning Hubs. Compared to a larger school setting, Learning Hubs often serve smaller numbers of students and are uniquely positioned to allow students to physically distance and stay in tighter “pods” or “cohorts” to limit contact. Additionally, programs have secured PPE and cleaning supplies, instituted health and safety precautions, and determined emergency protocol to best ensure the health and safety of all involved, including staff members, students, and families. While many programs have purchased their own PPE and cleaning supplies, others had them supplied by their school district or by other means. For example, the YMCA of Rogue Valley received PPE donations from their local hospital. Other programs collaborated with community partners for other health and safety precautions as well, such as the New Haven Parks and Recreation Department, which worked with city and state health departments and building inspectors to ensure all their sites were clean and had proper ventilation. Other ways Community Learning Hubs are keeping students safe are by:

Keeping students in pods. At Portland Community Squash, kids stay in groups of four throughout the entirety of the day, rotating through activities together, and are transported home in their same groups by their designated staff member at the end of the day. While this level of transportation is not possible for all programs, Portland Community Squash emphasized that transportation is important to consider to avoid students mixing at the end of the day and to ensure access for all students.
Limiting contact surfaces and constant disinfecting. While many programs such as the Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket are limiting contact surfaces by giving each student their own work space and own materials, programs do note that sometimes students need to move around classrooms or into different areas and use communal resources. In these instances, programs are constantly disinfecting after each student leaves their area or uses communal materials, such as playground equipment.
Not allowing personal belongings in the buildings to limit the possibility of COVID-19 entering the space. Programs such as Newport News Park and Rec Youth Programs do not allow students to bring any personal belongings into the buildings like they typically would, besides their Chromebook for school. At PAL NYC, students are even given a clean mask when they arrive and a bag to store the mask they arrived in.
Having protocol in place. It is important to not only have protocols in place for keeping students and staff members safe, but also for addressing what to do if someone gets sick. Parkway-Rockwood School District developed an extensive 30-page manual on how to keep program staff safe, as well as protocols for contact tracing and quarantine procedures should issues arise.

Funding

A major component of operating Community Learning Hubs is securing the funding. Extra funding is needed to ensure that programs are following necessary safety protocols and addressing the increased number of hours students are spending in their programs while schools operate virtually or on a hybrid schedule. The funding accessible by programs may depend on the program’s geographic location, state allowances for use of funds, and the typical funding streams pre-pandemic. The most common options for funding include:

CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act): The CARES Act included planning and implementation of afterschool programs as allowable activities for relief funding as well as additional grant funds to the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG). The Breakwater School, a program that works in partnership with the Portland Public Schools in Portland, Maine, utilized CARES funds to provide programming to all 45 of their students at no cost to families. The Boonshoft Museum, in Dayton, Ohio, was also able to utilize CARES funds to provide programming at no cost to children of essential city employees.
State and local government assistance: Depending on location and funds available, some programs were able to access funding streams specifically created by their state and local governments, or through their local parks and recreation departments. PAL NYC was able to tap into a funding stream created by the New York Department of Youth and Community Development to provide programming free of charge to their 35 participants. The New Haven Parks and Recreation Department was also able to use city funding, as well as leveraging some foundation funds, to make programming free for their students.
Philanthropy: Local and regional philanthropic organizations have created pools of funding to keep afterschool programs open and operating, especially for frontline essential workers’ families. The Curry Library in Golden Beach, Oregon, received significant funding from a local donor as well as a grant from the Ford Family Foundation. A local foundation in Kalamazoo coordinated local funders to fund hubs through the Kalamazoo Youth Development Network, currently serving 400 youth.
Fees and tuition: In a smaller number of cases, costs were covered entirely by fees and tuition, though with some of those students receiving subsidies or financial aid. The Parkway-Rockwood School District, Missouri, relies entirely on fees and tuition of participants to remain open during the pandemic, receiving no local or state funds.
Other funding sources: Programs are also dipping into reserve funds to cover gaps or are fundraising aggressively in their communities to keep their doors open. Less commonly, programs, such as Mind Trust in Marion County, Indiana, were able to dip into their own reserves to keep programs running.

In many cases, programs put together a combination of funding sources to cover gaps, but worry as options like CARES funding are set to expire. Campfire Heartland, in Kansas City, Missouri, braided funding raised by a coalition of community funders with CARES Act funding to provide programming free of charge, while the YMCA of Rouge Valley in Medford, Oregon, combines fee-for-service with funding sources from healthcare providers, Housing Authority, SNAP, and other grants received by partners to continue to keep programs running.

While circumstances and funding opportunities vary widely from program to program, all programs dedicated extraordinary resourcefulness to either identify funds, partner with others, or work with their local and state governments to ensure that programs could stay open for the children who needed them.

SEL/Mental and emotional wellness

Addressing the wellbeing of youth with a holistic approach is increasingly a priority, particularly in the face of the pandemic and the ways it has impacted the physical, social, and emotional health of youth. On top of navigating a new school day structure and limited contact with friends and peers, youth may have also experienced trauma, loss of loved ones, and decreased contact with teachers, afterschool program staff, mentors and other trusted adults whom they would normally see on a regular basis. Trauma is a major concern, with programs like the YMCA of Middle Tennessee in Nashville sharing that they are seeing a lot of isolation among students and limited social opportunities. Portland Community Squash in Portland, Maine, runs a relationship-based program and are concerned about losing progress, particularly with the students who are not able to come in person. Within their program, students participate in squash and wellness activities, including yoga and engaging in critical conversations.

Community Learning Hubs have recognized the importance of supporting the mental, emotional, and social wellbeing of the students in their community. Community Learning Hubs can help by:

Partnering with mental health providers: The Oklahoma Department of Health & Human Services’ Hope Centers across the state have a strong SEL and mental health component in their programming. Each center is required to contract with a mental health provider, who completes reflective supervision for staff, screens youth and voices any concerns to staff. Centers provide groups for basic SEL practices, including mindfulness and meditation, and also partner with schools and food banks to provide meals to students. An adult and family service worker is also embedded at each center to help families enroll in SNAP, TANF and child care. The Kalamazoo Youth Development Network also provides mental health supports to their students. They have a counselor who provides referrals and the program also provides online mental health counseling.
Providing wraparound services for students and families: Identity, a community organization in Gaithersburg, Maryland, focuses on SEL, education support, and workforce development. They currently run a Study Bubble for youth, which is comprised of students who the program identified as the most withdrawn and emotionally unstable and could benefit from the supports provided by the hub. Identity is also working with students and parents to do wraparound services to help meet needs at home.
Providing professional development on trauma-informed care: Professional development for staff to best support the emotional health of youth is also critical. Campfire Heartland in Kansas City, Missouri, partnered with the Truman Medical Center to provide trainings on trauma and trauma-informed care for staff.

Understanding the impact that the pandemic has had on the mental and emotional health of youth, Community Learning Hubs have continued or expanded the services that support mental and emotional health to ensure that they are holistically supporting youth.

Professional Development and Staffing Considerations

While derived from traditional afterschool and youth development program models, operating a Community Learning Hub is fundamentally different. Programs may need to consider providing staff with additional professional development training in order to meet the current needs of children and youth. Programs operating Community Learning Hubs cited the need for training to help staff navigate the difference between teaching and providing tutoring or facilitating virtual learning. Programs also noted the need for professional development on trauma-informed care to help children, youth, and families with their social and emotional needs.

Programs may also need to keep in mind different staffing considerations, including incentives to keep staff employed and supported, and programs that rely on college students might need to search elsewhere for staff support, if colleges and universities are closed. The following programs provide examples of how Community Learning Hubs are navigating these challenges:

Training in trauma-informed care: Recognizing that many of the youth attending Community Learning Hubs were experiencing trauma as a result of isolation, difficult home circumstances, or anxiety triggered by the pandemic, Campfire Heartland in Kansas City, Missouri, partnered the Truman Medical Center, a major hospital in the city, to provide training to all staff.
Training on facilitating virtual learning versus teaching: Helping staff understand the difference between facilitating virtual learning and teaching students is key to running a successful Community Learning Hub. Both the YMCA of Middle Tennessee in Nashville and Kama’aina Kids in Hawai'i are providing additional training to help staff understand their role and navigate conversations with parents who assume program staff are teaching their students.
Thinking creatively about hiring staff: Community Learning Hubs may need to think creatively about hiring staff to support their programs, especially at programs that rely heavily on college students or volunteers. To offset staffing challenges, Greater Rochester Afterschool and Summer Alliance (GRASA) in Rochester, New York, hired school district paraprofessionals to staff their Community Learning Hub. With schools operating virtually, the paraprofessionals were facing layoffs. By hiring them to work in the community learning hub, GRASA was able to keep the paraprofessionals employed while also gaining staff who are trained and cleared to work with students. The YMCA of Rouge Valley in Oregon also found a creative solution to staffing challenges in the hubs. With substitute teachers and older staff unable to work in person due to concerns about contracting COVID, the YMCA turned to training high school seniors to support programs.
Hiring incentives and expanded benefits: Offering hiring incentives and enriching employee benefits can also help encourage new or current staff work within Community Learning Hubs. If additional funding support for their Community Learning Hubs became available, San Francisco Beacons would provide staff with hazard pay and enhanced benefits, including health insurance. The program recognized that many of the individuals staffing these programs come from underrepresented communities significantly impacted by COVID. Additional pay and benefits, such as health care, recognizes those impacts and shows that the program greatly values their staff.

Key challenges

Schools, afterschool programs, libraries, parks and recreation centers and many more organizations have pivoted their services to meet the most immediate needs of youth and to ensure that they continue to have opportunities to learn, grow, and be supported. Youth-serving organizations recognize the importance of having safe spaces for students to learn and participate in programming, but also acknowledge that starting and running a Community Learning Hub during a pandemic comes with its own challenges, such as staffing, transportation, managing different schedules, and uncertainty around funding moving into 2021, especially as funding from the CARES Act ends.

Some of the key challenges facing Community Learning Hubs include:

Managing different student schedules: One challenge that many hubs have faced is managing the different schedules of students. For example, some hubs have students coming from multiple schools, resulting in having to manage multiple schedules. At Mind Trust in Marion County, Indiana, they serve both public school students and charter school students. With every school district they serve doing something different, they have students who are operating on fully virtual, fully in-person, and hybrid schedules. 

Many programs are identifying simple solutions to overcome this challenge. At Portland Community Squash, staff posted a white board where student schedules are written at the start of each day so everyone is aware of what each student is doing during the day.
Managing expectations between parents, students, and schools: Another challenge that hubs have experienced includes establishing a common understanding of the role of the hubs amongst students, parents, and schools, which certainly differs from hub to hub. For example, some parents have viewed program staff as school day teachers and have asked them directly about grades, when program staff at those particular hubs are not intended to be school day teachers, but rather facilitators of the program where the hub is hosted.

On the opposite side, for example, the Fleet Science Center in San Diego, California has faced challenges with having parents understand that they are a resource and not creating more work for them. Some hubs have also mentioned challenges with developing partnerships with local organizations and school districts.
Transportation: Transportation of students to and from the hubs has also been a common challenge. Identity in Gaithersburg, Maryland, shared that they have some students who walk to their learning hub, and are concerned about the transportation for students once the weather gets colder. In addition to transportation, finding suitable physical spaces for the hub was also a challenge. New Haven Parks and Recreation in New Haven, Connecticut, shared that because many city buildings are old and are in need of repair, some sites wouldn’t pass inspection, and they needed to identify new locations. MU Adventure Club in Columbia, Missouri, also shared that they had considered investing in a new facility but were not sure if that would make sense if schools were to reopen and the learning hub was no longer needed.

Portland Public Schools, and their partnering non-profit organizations identified a creative solution to work around the transportation challenge. With students attending school in person on alternate days, the city was able to utilize a combination of school and charter buses to pick up and drop off students.
Staffing: Staffing was also a common challenge shared amongst hubs. The YMCA of Rogue Valley in Medford, Oregon, shared that substitute teachers and older individuals were not able to help staff the hub due to virus concerns, so the program ended up training high school seniors to help support the programs. Many hubs also shared their difficulty with navigating scheduling when staff call in sick and how to prevent those staff from intermixing with other staff and students.

To mitigate challenges with staffing, the Greater Rochester Afterschool and Summer Alliance (GRASA) turned to school district paraprofessionals. Facing layoffs due to school closures, the GRASA was able to bring on paraprofessionals as staff in the Community Learning Hubs, hiring individuals that needed minimal training and were already cleared to work by the school district. BASE (Before and Afterschool Enterprise) in Castle Rock, Colorado, continued to work with their young, college-aged staff, many of whom are former program attendees. These staff members encouraged their friends to work for the program, providing additional staffing for the program.
Licensure Requirements: Navigating licensure was identified as a challenge for certain hubs as well. Mind Trust shared that there are certain licensures that are typically required for programs to serve students during the day, but thankfully the Governor’s Executive Order helped to simplify the process. Boonshoft Museum in Dayton, Ohio, is working to get a child care licensure to serve at least 45 students and is working closely with the hospital to serve children of their employees.

Conclusion

We are inspired by the ingenuity, flexibility, and adaptability of afterschool programs and the multitude of creative ways they have created safe, enriching learning spaces for students during the pandemic. We hope by sharing these models they can be replicated across the country in places where schools are operating in a virtual or hybrid setting. This is only the beginning. Learning does not stop and start at the school doors.

The best practices from these non-school based programs can be adapted and used in a post-COVID world to create more choices and opportunities for students, parents, and communities. Afterschool programs need to be recognized as part of a rich learning ecosystem that has the power to capture the best resources of each local community to help prepare our children and youth for the workforce and a bright future with academic and non-academic learning experiences.

Programs through and beyond the Community Learning Hubs are helping address learning loss and ensuring students are engaged, supported, and prepared to catch up and stay ahead.

Afterschool programs, including those operating over the summer, are havens for students, meeting them where they are and creating inspiring and enriching curriculum based on students' experiences and personal interests. Students are encouraged to push outside their comfort zones and explore a host of interests not available in a classroom. Virtual curriculum can allow students to study subjects unavailable in their school. Internships, apprenticeships, jobs, career tech education, learning how to code, or spending time studying the environment outdoors are some of the many ways students should be able to receive credit towards school and college. A small handful of schools are already doing this. This needs to be expanded. As we move forward, schools systems need to embrace their out-of-school time partners and create pathways for students to receive credit for work and activities completed outside the school classroom. The possibilities are endless and can be driven by the resources and needs of each local community. By creating more choices for where, when, how and with whom our students learn, we can expedite their social and academic recovery from this pandemic and create a better, stronger educational system for the future.

Acknowledgements

Just as the Community Learning Hubs are most successful through collaborations, the creation of this guide involved the support of many partners. The Afterschool Alliance would like to thank:

  • The Charles Koch Institute for their generous funding support.
  • National League of Cities and in particular, Gislene Tasayco, for their thought partnership and leadership.
  • Every Hour Counts and the 50 Statewide Afterschool Networks supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation who helped inform this report.

We conducted over 35 hours of interviews with 30 afterschool programs, intermediaries, and school districts in 18 states. We would like to thank the following programs for sharing their time and experiences:

  • Fleet Science Center, San Diego, CA
  • Playworks, San Francisco, CA
  • San Francisco Beacons, San Francisco, CA
  • BASE (Before and Afterschool Enterprise), Castle Rock, CO
  • Scholars Unlimited, Denver, CO
  • Project Dream – Lake County School District, Leadville, CO
  • New Haven Parks and Recreation, New Haven, CT
  • Kama’aina Kids, Honolulu, HI
  • Elkhart Boys and Girls Club, Elkhart, IN
  • Mind Trust, Indianapolis, IN
  • USD 290, Ottawa, KS
  • Breakwater School, Portland, ME
  • Portland Community Squash, Portland, ME
  • Portland Public Schools, Portland, ME
  • Identity, Gaithersburg, MD
  • Kalamazoo Youth Development Network, Kalamazoo, MI
  • MU Adventure Club, Columbia, MO
  • Parkway-Rockwood School District, Ellisville, MO
  • Campfire Heartland, Kansas City, MO
  • Greater Rochester Afterschool and Summer Alliance, Rochester, NY
  • PAL NYC, Brooklyn, NY
  • MyCom, Cleveland, OH
  • Boonshoft Museum, Dayton, OH
  • Oklahoma Department of Health and Human Services – Hope Centers, Oklahoma City, OK
  • Curry Library, Golden Beach, OR
  • Rouge Valley Family YMCA, Medford, OR
  • Expanding Horizons, Roseburg, OR
  • Ocean State Kidz Club, Cranston, RI
  • Boys and Girls Club of Pawtucket, Pawtucket, RI
  • YMCA of Middle Tennessee, Nashville, TN
  • Newport News Parks and Recreation, Newport News, VA
  • Madison Out of School Time, Madison, WI