As the number of positive Coronavirus tests and severe COVID-19 cases dwindle in Maryland, The 29th Street Community Center (The Center) is doing some testing of its own with a partial reopening for youth who crave in-person connection.
Starting on Monday, July 13th and running for five weeks until August 14th, the center will provide programming for 17 students grades K through 8th from 12pm to 4pm.
The five-week period and small participant group will serve as a pilot re-opening phase for The Center. Staff will be able to become familiar with new safety protocols and quickly adjust the structure of their programming to reduce the chance of infection.
“We really want to provide youth with something structured after being confined to their homes for so long. It will be a space to connect with near peer role models and coordinators and continue the important relationship building that happened during the school year,” says Minju Zukowski, Program Director for The Center.
Three coordinators will lead the students through academic, reading, art and outdoor physical activities. This will be a welcome change for students and staff who had previously only been interacting virtually. The Center’s virtual programming, which started when Baltimore City Public Schools shut down in March, has included phone calls, videos chats, and live reading session.
“The end of the school year was really hard for our community. A lot of youth are missing that in-person interaction and getting lost in all the technology,” says Minju.
For 12-year-old Logan Long, coming to The Center is the one of only a few opportunities he has to get out of the apartment he lives in.
“I had to stay in the house all day, except for going to the market and stuff,” says Logan.
He is excited to get to come to The Center now. “It’s the funest thing to do,” he says. “I like going outside and playing catch. And today we did self-portraits. I didn’t finish mine, but I’ll finish it tomorrow.”
The Center has safety procedures in place that follow The Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. At the beginning and end of each day, staff and students get their temperature checked and take an online survey that screens for various symptoms. The data is aggregated into a spreadsheet so staff can see if someone’s temperature is slowly rising or if mild symptoms persist.
In addition, masks are required inside, tables and chairs are set up to be at least six feet apart, and there are multiple hand sanitizer stations throughout the building. Staff also do a thorough clean of the building each day.
“Everyone has done really good job so far,” says Melissa Huch the Operations and Communications Coordinator at The Center. “It’s a new adjustment and everyone needs lots of reminders not to leave their mask on their chin or to not get too close. But, overtime, it will become second nature.”
“I don’t like wearing the mask, but we have to prevent the virus,” says Logan. “You should always keep your hands clean, though. No matter what!”
So far, there have been no coronavirus cases at the center.
The pilot dates also align with the summer Youth-Works program schedule, which will be completely virtual. In previous years, The Center would serve as a worksite and training location for students participating in Youth-Works. This year, coordinators will have virtual sessions with their students, so they still get exposed to community mentors, college readiness, and career readiness programming.
The Center is also managing to still serve youth and families that are not a part of the in-person program by acting as a meal pick up site, providing STEM and art activity take home kits, and hosting a donation store that provides food, clothes, supplies, and masks.
Minju is not sure what the school year will bring, but he is hoping the pilot will give them a good base to grow from.
“We don’t know what the plan is from city schools, yet. But operating now gives us a sense of what is doable for the fall. We will be able to understand what our limits are and how intensive it will be to keep the building clean and safe,” says Minju.
The staff has accomplished a tremendous amount with the resources they have. Assistant Program Director Gee Gee Burnside says they are really only limited by their budget.
“If I could have more staff, we could serve way more kids. That’s our greatest need right now,” says Gee Gee.