Local Boys & Girls Clubs are reopening with limited in-person services next week. Courtesy photo.

As distance learning stretches into the fall many parents are concerned about the growing educational gap between low-income students and students with access to expensive tutors and learning support services. The Boys & Girls Club of Santa Monica strives to bridge that gap and is reopening its Lincoln and Mar Vista Gardens centers for in-person and virtual academic support on Tuesday.

Prior to the pandemic, the club primarily offered after school programming, but it has expanded its services to include in-person learning support during the school day. Students ages 6 to 18 can now sign up for a.m., p.m., or full day sessions which include academic support, technology access, safe peer collaboration, and extracurricular activities through 12 person learning pods.

“Our focus has always been to meet the needs of the community and right now we have seen so many needs with parents and families trying to keep kids engaged in school at home. There are just so many challenges with devices, with technology issues, with internet issues, and with creating a positive conducive learning environment for kids to be in,” said Ian Keiller, Chief Operating Officer of the Boys & Girls Club Santa Monica.

Half-day programs, which run from 8 a.m. to 11:45 a.m and 12 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., are free for families after they pay the $20 annual membership fee. Students can also enroll in the full day program for $75 a week and all programs run for a month at a time so students are interacting with the same limited group of people.

Both the Lincoln and Mar Vista Gardens centers have limited their capacities to 60 students and are implementing strict social distancing and hygiene protocols. At each center students will be divided by age level into pods of 12 and will only interact with students in their own cohort.

“Safety has always been our first focus on things and I’ve been proud of how the staff has responded to the training and the procedures. We’ve definitely seen comfort and confidence levels just skyrocket with the practice and training,” said Keiller.

The centers provide a structured and supportive learning environment where students can come during the day to receive academic and tech support. They are also able to work collaboratively with their peers and participate in some of the social and emotional learning that distance learning limits. Students in the p.m. or full day session will also have the opportunity to engage in recreational and enrichment activities after 3 p.m.

In past school years around 4,000 students took part in programming at the Santa Monica Boys & Girls Clubs, but this year the two open centers can only host 120 students at a time. In order to help reach a greater number of students, the club is also offering virtual programming.

From 3 to 4 p.m. students can meet with an academic mentor over Zoom to work on homework or go over concepts they are struggling with. Some of the centers’ enrichment programming, such as its coding course run by Oracle and its arts classes offered by the Bloom School of Music and Dance, will be run in a hybrid format. Operators will conduct the session via Zoom and students can participate from the centers or from home.

“There are a lot of people that are challenged in this time trying to make ends meet, trying to work and trying to keep their kids engaged in school. The education gap is just going to broaden so significantly here if we don’t meet those needs,” said Keiller. “Parents are so grateful that they have the opportunity to get their kids support as needed and they trust us that we’ve got safety first and that we are always kid first.”

There are limited spots available for the first month of in-person programming at the Lincoln center. To learn more email info@smbgc.org or call 310-394-2582.