Boys & Girls Club fills gaps in remote learning

Boys & Girls Club fills gaps in remote learning

San Mateo County-based nonprofit Boys & Girls Club of the Coastside traditionally offers after-school programs to students in the Cabrillo Unified School District, including the cities of Montara, El Granada and Half Moon Bay. However, like most districts in the area, the 2020-21 school year began remotely as we continued to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

This made the Boys & Girls Club’s usual model impossible – and it also created challenges for many of the local students.

“They gave all of the students Chromebooks,” said Jill Jacobson, executive director of Boys & Girls Club of the Coastside. “But they didn’t have a system for providing internet access — and without internet, that Chromebook is just a paperweight.” Complicating matters, for Zoom school, students needed good broadband access, not just any internet connection.

Thanks in part to grants from SVCF’s COVID-19 Regional Nonprofit Emergency Fund and San Mateo County Strong fund, the Boys & Girls Club was able to offer learning pods for district middle school and high school students starting on the first day of school.

Learning pods were an “expensive proposition,” Jacobson said. Due to strict COVID-19 protocols, the organization could have only six or seven students per classroom. Each classroom needed an adult – who could not switch between student groups during the day.

The Boys & Girls Club had 24 children in the program on the first day of school, and by the end, it had 70. The increase was not because internet connectivity got worse, Jacobson said, but rather because “a whole bunch of kids who had the ability to get on at home weren’t – they were just disappearing.” Some preferred going to the program every day because they wanted to be with other people.

Although the program charged a fee, they did not turn away those who couldn’t pay.

“Supporters like SVCF really made the whole thing possible,” Jacobson said.

Meeting Unmet Needs During the Pandemic

The Boys & Girls Club’s normal budget, based on staff members working about 15 hours per week to cover the after-school hours, is under $1 million. However, costs increased in 2020 because the program had to open each day at 7:30 a.m. so students could be present for Zoom classes by 7:45 a.m.

“Finding enough people who were willing to take the risk to work in person was complicated,” Jacobson said.“I spent a lot of time talking to them about how important I thought the risk they were taking was.”

It was also expensive to pay for all these additional staff hours. The grants from SVCF aimed to help nonprofits that were meeting unmet needs in the community — such as the need for learning pods to make remote education work.

One of SVCF’s goals was to make the emergency relief grants more accessible than grant applications typically are.

“We wanted to eliminate the technological barriers that some of the small nonprofits would experience,” said Leticia Gonzalez, project manager for movement- and power-building at Silicon Valley Community Foundation.“They were working remotely, their teams were spread out, and a lot of them were caught not even knowing if their staff had internet, especially along the coast.”

SVCF made the application as simple as possible.

“I really appreciated that as a grantee,” Jacobson said. “It was a really easy way to be able to access some funds quickly without a lot of hoops to jump through, and with minimal reporting requirements.”

Adjusting to the New Normal

This fall 2021, the Boys & Girls Club returned to more normal programming as Cabrillo schools brought students back to class in person. It is offering after-school programs with homework support, for example, as well as college and scholarship preparation workshops. Its enrichment programs include a Makerspace and it also offers after-school sports programs.

Though the 2021 summer and fall programming was not funded by SVCF, the foundation’s grant from the previous year helped lay the groundwork for the return to traditional programming by helping absorb the cost of extra staff hours. When the school district and the Boys & Girls Club were ready to collaborate on an outdoor summer program for more than 120 rising fifth to eighth graders, the staff was already in place.

“If we hadn’t been open during the school year, I wouldn’t have had staff trained and ready to go for the summer,” Jacobson said.“SVCF’s grant positioned us to be able to do that.”

Helping nonprofits respond to COVID-19 also helped SVCF see the importance of supporting small organizations and those embedded in communities of color, which were “critical to the response effort,” Gonzalez said. “We knew this had to happen, but this made it very clear.”

SVCF’s focus on providing grants to smaller groups, however, was not left behind with the earlier stages of the pandemic. Bolstering funding for smaller nonprofits, along with simplifying the grant application process, became integral to the foundation’s grantmaking programs. As SVCF continues to work toward systemic change, the foundation is proud to support the Boys & Girls Club and other organizations advancing equity in our region.

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