The Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan are preparing to reopen their doors for the fall a little differently this year. Although they’re no stranger to navigating challenging situations, BGCSM has successfully found new ways to help local youth learn, grow, and innovate throughout a World War, a great depression, riots, and now, the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organization, which services about 15,000 youth annually between the ages of 6 and 18 at their Club locations, will be expanding their services to house e-learning students with full-day, onsite and virtual learning options.
The expansion will be available to youth in Detroit, Highland Park, Auburn Hills, and Pontiac. “We followed CDC guidelines, state regulations and mandates to put safety first,” Gavin McGuire, chief operating officer of BGCSM, says. “We have the vision to serve kids both virtually and in-person.”
Gavin McGuire, chief operating officer of Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan
Opening for the fall on Sept. 8, BGCSM’s new “learning pods” will be offered at various locations around Metro Detroit. From 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, youth will be able to access the internet, meals, guided learning, and more where trained staff will be available both onsite and online to assist with anything from homework to after-school activities.
The learning pods will be located at Dauch Club, Wilson Club, Fauver-Martin Club, Diehl Club, Pontiac Youth Recreation and Enrichment Center, and Industry Club, housed in fashion retail store, Detroit is the New Black.
“We were able to partner with the Boys & Girls Club through two programs this summer,” Richard Grundy, CEO at JOURNi, says. The organization, which strives to build a tech ecosystem in Detroit, hosted hybrid STEM programming classes through the learning pods. “While our team provided the instruction through Zoom, it was still very interactive because the students still worked with actual microprocessors and robots on their end in person.”
This type of programming, Grundy says, garnered a positive response from the community. “We have one group that loved building robots and programming microprocessors that they got to keep,” he explains, “and another group that’s paced [out] all other groups in the country for coding curriculum.”
Richard Grundy, CEO of JOURNi
For families now engaging in remote or hybrid learning, having an option for in-person learning — while remaining safe — has been crucial.
“We have a lot of parents who may not be going back to the physical school space, so we’re really important [to them],” McGuire explains. “We will extend the operating hour of the Club and ensure that families have access to digital devices like laptops, tablets, and Chromebooks, along with internet access.”
The most important aspect of the extension, McGuire says, is working in tandem with school districts to ensure continuity of learning. Youth will also be able to participate in a wide spectrum of programs. “They’ll get a full menu of enrichment programming, from sports, STEM activities to performing arts, and will also get social-emotional and mental wellness support during this time.”
Each learning pod will house a maximum of 50 students to ensure social distancing. Sanitization, handwashing, and masks will be practiced and enforced. The organization has been closely monitoring trends and data to identify best practices and guidelines to keep youth and staff safe, working alongside the parent organization to determine safety protocols.
“After surveying and accessing the needs of our families, this is something that we decided to launch post-COVID,” McGuire says, “as many schools temporarily closed or pivoted to remote or hybrid learning. “We go above and beyond in following the recommendations.”
For kids especially, McGuire explains, the pandemic has been difficult to understand, and BGCSM hopes to be a place where they can feel safe, supported, and to take their minds off of the current climate.
“It was an abrupt stop for them,” he says. “One day they got a message that said, ‘Hey, we’re not going to school, we’re not playing sports’ and it has caused a lot of discomfort, worry, and anxiety.”
"Experiencing a sense of normalcy around them will be crucial for kids. I think the more that parents and kids see that things are going back to normal, the more they gain the confidence to know that we’re going to turn the corner, that we’re going to be OK,” McGuire says. “Opening [our Clubs] back up and giving kids a chance to see their friends, to socialize instead of being isolated at home is really helping their mental health.”
Tonya Trussell, a parent of two, says her children have been involved with BGCSM for more than 15 years. Her son Reggie, now 22, began attending programs at the age of 5 and later worked at one of the locations. Her daughter Erica, 15, is a current member. “It has been a safe place for my children,” she explains, “a place to spend summers and attend programs after school.” Employees were often mentors to her kids, Trussell describes, and that they looked out for them and treated them as if they were their own.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, Erica pivoted to online learning to attend virtual programs offered by BGCSM. Now that physical locations are back open, she’ll be taking data coding classes at a Dauch Club and using her artistic talent to help decorate the space. “She can be very shy at times,” Trussell says, “and the club has helped her open up more.”
McGuire says the organization is already planning out 2021 programming and will continue to monitor the news as it develops. “We’ve been doing a good job of thinking outside of the box,” he explains. “We’re partnering with agencies and businesses to talk about the fall and beyond and how we can continue to meet the needs of the community.”