A girl wearing headphones looks at her virtual schoolwork in a gym, while an adult sits next to her. Qwentina Jones had a challenging decision to make when it was time for her younger son, Ivan, to start kindergarten this year. How could she support his learning when school looks so strange this year?

She turned to the Skool Konnects program at the Tindal Activity Center in her neighborhood.

“They specialize in helping the kids. I have a non-traditional work schedule so I’m home to help, but at Skool Konnects he’s safely with other kids and gets one-on-one help throughout the day,” Qwentina says. “He can interact with other kids. He’s not going to get bored sitting at home all day looking at a screen. Their day is structured here, almost like school.”

As school districts struggled to decide how to start school this fall, Maria Adams-Lawton, executive director of the Tindal Activity Center, knew she had to rethink their youth development programming.

“We usually operate licensed latchkey and sports programs around the city,” explains Maria. “With school buildings closed, we had to figure out how we can help parents now.”

The organization quickly converted its space at the Tindal Activity Center. Almost two dozen children from kindergarten to 8th grade attend from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with additional hours for before and after school as needed. Students enter the building to sign-in, get a temperature check, and take a seat at their own table, six feet apart. Everyone is required to wear a mask.

With support from staff and community volunteers, students have mostly one-on-one support to manage the Zoom calls, navigate all the various learning platforms, and get encouragement to stay engaged.

A girl wearing a hair bow, headphones and a masks looks at a screen while doing virtual schoolwork.“We have kids from many different school systems, including Detroit Public Schools, Southfield, Oak Park, Novi, and a few private schools,” says Maria. “At first, it was challenging to have all these schedules coexist, but we have gotten it down to a science now.

“It’s hard to sit and focus all day,” says Maria. “We have a playground and a game room where kids take a break or play a game in between classes. Socialization is a huge part of growing up. They enjoy being able to talk to other kids. They can feel like they’re in this together.”

The community has stepped up in various ways to support students through Skool Konnects.

“With additional funding, we are able to supply laptops to students who need them,” says Maria. “All students receive a backpack with school supplies and hand sanitizer. Other groups are donating snacks.”

“Many people and programs are volunteering so that kids have one-on-one support,” explains Maria. “There are retired teachers and parents like Qwentina who are giving their time. We had students from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School here today working with our kids.

“It’s encouraging to see how our community has come together for the kids here.”

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