Community Learning Centers for Students
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
SEPTEMBER 23, 2020 – The logistical challenges at the Community Learning Center at Winston Lake YMCA are quite demanding.
Each day, 34 Winston-Salem/Forsyth County students in kindergarten through seventh grade come to the Winston Lake Y to go to school remotely. The students attend 20 different schools. Students in different grades focus on different subjects. Different classes at each school have different schedules.
At the Winston Lake Y, only two students – kindergarteners, as it happens – are in the same class at the same school. That means that Gabrielle Ellis, the Program Director for the Community Learning Center, and other staff members have to keep track of a unique schedule for every other student.
They do that in part by posting each student’s schedule on the tri-board set up in front of the student’s computer. When it’s time for the student to log in for the day, a staff member makes sure that happens and offers any assistance necessary.
“For every student, we have a different schedule,” Ellis said.
The list of challenges goes on. Students arrive and leave at different times. From time to time, some students have go to another area so they can take a test. To coordinate it all, staff members stay in touch with students’ teachers.
“We have been communicating with all the teachers,” Ellis said.
Despite those challenges, it soon becomes clear to anyone who drops that every student is receiving the attention they need and that attention is being delivered with warmth.
“I love being with the kids – that’s my favorite part,” Ellis said.
The center at the Winston Lake Y is one of more than 30 Community Learning Centers being operated through the county. Some are operated by YMCA’s. Some are held at Recreation Centers operated by the City of Winston-Salem. Some are operated by Imprints Cares, a nonprofit early childhood education organization. Churches operate some. At some centers, the adults working with the students are volunteers.
As the Extended Day Program Manager for WS/FCS, Cheryl Wright oversees the Community Learning Center program.
“Centers were purposed for those in the gap who need to continue learning, help with routines, encouragement, and organization around learning,” Wright said.
They also serve families who need care while parents or guardians are working at home or out in the community.
“The goal is to provide a safe, structured space,” Wright said. WS/FCS collaborates with organizations throughout the community for this purpose.”
Effie McMillian, who is the Executive Director of Equity, worked with organizations in the community to establish the centers.
“Returning to school during the 2020-2021 school year definitely looks different than years past, and for our students that has meant engaging in eLearning/Remote Learning,” McMillian said.
“Because the district recognized that accessing and staying fully engaged in eLearning/Remote Learning could present challenges for some of our students, we started in June working in collaboration with Forsyth Promise, multiple agencies, and partners to establish Remote Learning Centers.”
“These Remote Learning Centers would serve as an extension to WS/FCS by providing spaces where small groups of students could go to access WiFi, get support, supervision, and engage in some social interaction with their peers when not in a school building.”
The school system has begun providing WS/FCS tutors for centers. At present, they have been working to help organize the learning process. Eventually, they will begin working with individual students who are struggling a bit. They have been extremely helpful, Wright said, particularly at centers that are managed by volunteers.
Different centers focus on students in different grades. At Winston Lake Y, children from all grades are welcome to attend.
Ellis and eight other staff members serve the students.
“It’s the YMCA’s way of supporting students in this community,” Ellis said. “It’s trying to provide a structured environment.”
Providing a place for students to attend school enables parents who might have to stay home with their children otherwise the opportunity to continue working.
Ellis calls each student’s home once a week to check in, and, each morning, as parents are dropping off their children, the Y staff members check in with them to see whether there’s anything special that their child needs that day.
Parents work hard not only to keep the people at the Y informed of anything pertinent to their child but also to serve other students.
“Our parents are awesome,” Ellis said.
They have done such things as donate masks to make sure that everyone has one. And, if they hear information that they think would serve the staff members, they make sure to pass it on.
In addition to supporting students with their academics, th people at the Y help students with their social and emotional learning.
“Each week is a different topic,” Ellis said. “Every afternoon we are doing different activities that align with their topic.
Topics so far have included cooperation, perseverance and goals. When talking about goals, they talked about things you might do if making new friends is one of your goals.
Asked whether she has a personal goal, Ellis said, “My personal goal for this year is to provide the best possible experiences for students in this community despite COVID.
Ellis is deeply connected to the school system. She graduated from North Forsyth High in 2009. Her father, Rodney Ellis, taught in WS/FC Schools and served as state president of the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE). She, too, taught for a time before going to work for the Y
On the morning of Tuesday Sept. 22, Michael Bragg, the Communications Director for YMCA of Northwest North Carolina was at Winston Lake.
For Bragg, one goal is “giving parents the peace of mind that their kids are in a safe, structured environment.”
Starting the week of Sept. 28, Bragg said, “Our E-learning Academy at the Winston Lake Family YMCA is free. We are making this change in order to continue meeting the educational needs of students in this community.”
“Families will still need to register their child/children the week prior — the same as before — in order to attend ELA.”
As one of the site supervisors for the Winston Lake learning center, Angela Caldwell works with students all day.
It’s unfortunate that students are not able to be in schools at the moment, she said. She is glad, though, that the Y is there to serve them.
“What I like is they have a place to come,” Caldwell said. “Their parents know they are getting their work done.”
“It’s cool to give them a safe place to come.”
Nygeria France, who is a counselor with the program, said that, although dealing with computers and other issues can be challenging but it’s also satisfying to work with the students.
“I like helping them during this time,” France.
At Winston Lake, one exception to following students’ individual schedules is lunch, which is delivered.
“We go ahead and serve every student when lunch gets here,” she said. “It’s not really an option to wait.”
Throughout the day, different groups will take short breaks, which can include going outside. Once the school day ends in the afternoon,
The first centers opened when the 2020-21 school year started. Since then, others have opened. Centers vary in regard to days of service, hours of service, cost, and age range of students served.
The majority of the centers are connected to the school system’s Child Nutrition Department, which provides breakfast and lunch.
Main Street Academy has been approved as a Community Learning Center site for high school students only. The student must have referral from a CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Team to attend. Hours will be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Here are the Community Learning Center sites:
Ardmore Baptist Church (high school only)
Baker Business LLC
Clemmons First Baptist Church (Imprints)
College in 3-2-1 Study Center (high school only)
Edgewood Baptist Church (Imprints)
Eliza's Helping Hands
Former W-S First Christian School (Imprints)
Hanes Hosiery Community Center
Hope Community Church (Imprints)
Imprints Cares - Downtown (Imprints)
Jerry Long Family YMCA
Kernersville Family YMCA
Knollwood Baptist Church (Imprints)
LaDeara Crest Community Center
Little Creek Neighborhood Center
Main Street Academy (high school only)
Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center
Miller Park Recreation Center
Minnie Lee Davis Harris Recreation Center
New Philadelphia Moravian Church (Imprints)
Open Arms Community Center
Polo Park Community Center
Sedge Garden Neighborhood Center
St. Paul Episcopal Church
St. Paul United Methodist Church
The Dream Team Foundation - Loewy
The Dream Team Foundation- The Enterprise Center
The Dream Team Foundation – Habitat for Humanity
William C. Sims Neighborhood Center
William G. White Jr. Family YMCA
William Roscoe Anderson Jr. Community Center
Winston Lake YMCA
336.727.2696 ext. 70114