Schools weren't the only organizations trying to navigate a changing landscape this year.
Support organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Illinois are making changes this fall to help area students.
Carbondale Elementary School District 95 and the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Illinois formed a partnership to support student members during this unique start of the school year.
The continuous spread of COVID-19 led to the district starting the school year in full remote learning to minimize the interactions between students and staff.
Boys and Girls Club of Southern Illinois Executive Director Tina Carpenter says to help meet the needs of students, the club made some modifications to their hours and environment to host remote learning.
“We’re using half of our gym and we have four pods in the gym, so we used pipe and drapes that we purchased for some of our fund-raising events and. We though oh we can use that to create almost like classrooms in the gym.”
The pods are separated into grade levels to give the kids a more school like feeling.
“We’re trying to keep those groups small again to help mitigate any potential spread.”
Carpenter says the club spent some time working how to accommodate dozens of students at the Springer Street facility.
“Our safety plan is pretty detailed and extensive so that we can again always maintain the health and safety of the kids, the staff and their families because they go home to their families.”
Part of the plan includes students having their temperature checked when they arrive and at lunch time along with health screenings, but once they’re inside.
“They are socially distance, big tables six feet apart, we using colorful duct tape on the floors so they have their domain, so if they’re in that spot while they’re sitting still, that’s the only time that they can take their mask off, but anytime someone comes within six feet of them the mask needs to get put back on.”
Some students like 8th grader William Toliver does not mind remote learning.
“Remote learning is like way better cause you get to see the teacher on the computer and if you need help if your teachers talking you can just message them you don’t have to interrupt them.”
After the live remote session, students work on the rest of their daily lessons and Toliver says this part can sometimes be difficult.
“The hardest part is when we all have to get off line and just do it by ourselves.”
To help Toliver and the rest of the students the club has multiple staff on hand to help them out.
“I think they’re happy to be out of the house and somewhere able to at least see their peers talk with their peers and there’s staff to mentor to help them along the way which I think it’s an amazing partnership to really help continue to build community.”
Carpenter explains the first couple of days they had some connectivity issue that was easily taken care of.
“It’s concrete inside the building most of our space that’s utilized is in the basement and it didn’t reach up to the gym so we had to wire and add access points to the gym so that connectivity was stronger.”
Carpenter says the kids are adjusting to the like school environment.
“The kids miss seeing their teachers face to face, they are seeing them because it is live remote learning, but they’ve done really well, I’m just impressed with the way the kids are adapting, I mean they’re resilient, their flexible and they’re doing what needs to be done.”
For Toliver he prefers this new set up over working from home because it gives him an opportunity to get his school work finished.
“Well what makes me concentrate more is the sound of it and its peace and quiet and sometime when it gets rowdy at home so when I get like here it’s like all the stuff that’s in my head comes out and I can just focus on school.”
After months of being at home the club offers kids an opportunity to be around peers and be away from the house.
“I think the big thing is that they’ve been in quarantine for so long, for some of the kids it feel like it’s never going to end and there’s so much uncertainty and things change so much from day to day, so us being able to be there for them emotionally, I feel like we’re feeding their mind their body and their soul by having them here.”
Toliver enjoys being around some familiar faces.
“Here more you can talk to your friends and stuff more and family and you get to get more work done without like having to frustrate and do all of this stuff.”
He also misses the hands-on activities in school before the pandemic.
“What I miss about being in the classroom is, well really I miss like science experiments and stuff. When we get to play basketball and touch the same ball.”
Nothing can replace the experience of being in school especially with in person instruction and recess.
“I had one young man on Monday said there’s good and there’s bad, they miss their friends they miss their teachers, they miss the social aspect and that normal routine, but at the same time they fell like oh there’s an opportunity here to still make those connections.”
To help make those connections the club has some extra activities for the kids.
“In the afternoon we’re doing a lot of social recreation that is socially distant and some interactive type programs where they’re problem solving together like some STEM activities and just some unity, be able to talk to each other about how they’re feeling because of Coronavirus quarantine.”
The club has two sites for remote learning, the Springer Street site has the capacity to accommodate 80 kids and a second site at Brehm Preparatory School can handle another 20.
“I’m so happy that we’re able to do this and to continue building partnerships with the schools and other community agencies just to meet the needs of the kids, I mean this is our mission and we’re able to continue living it.”