I’ve been working at the Boys and Girls Club of Indianapolis as a program coordinator for almost 2 years now. I remember the talk of COVID-19 during its initial weeks going around the Club between members and staff, but no one saw what was coming. We went from making cute cartoon pamphlets about COVID-19 with the kids to try to inform them in the simplest way what the virus was, to the staff (myself included) opening letters to inform us that we had been laid off. The Club closed and a few weeks later we were available for online programming and homework help all through Zoom. However, few members attended the zoom sessions. As Summer break neared the Club slowly started to open and members were allowed back. There was a cap on how many members could attend the Summer session, so members were chosen by a random lottery. Since then, our numbers continue to be low and I oftentimes find myself reminiscing about the chaos and number of kids we used to have running around prior to the pandemic. Not only that but I wonder how the members who never came back are doing and what they have been up to. The Club operates as a safe space for the children in the community that are considered at risk youth. Emily Benfer stated that the pandemic precipitated a huge job loss and economic hardship especially among people of color and low-income populations who were already economically marginalized and experiencing housing precarity prior to the pandemic. Most members have a household income at or below the poverty line and a handful are in foster care or without stable housing. Meals that were provided at the club were sometimes the last meal the members would have before breakfast the next day at school. The Club was the one thing outside of school that provided a sense of stability and structure for the members and more close-knit than the environment at school. The Club served to foster both their educational and character growth. But COVID-19 took that away from the members.
Before schools reopened for in-person classes this semester, the Club served as an E-Learning Hub. Starting at 8 o’clock in the morning all members would be in their virtual meetings and doing class work until 3 o’clock in the afternoon when the Club would transition to normal programming. Members from kindergarten to high school were separated by grade level and put into classrooms with a staff member. I was with the kindergarteners and my experience working with them is why I chose this particular topic to discuss. Working with the kindergarteners was far from easy, and I do not fault the kindergarteners for that. For one, this is the first year that the students were in school. They came in without knowing how to hold a pencil, how to write or read, identify or write numbers and their ABC’s. Not only that but they were then expected to operate an iPad or Chromebook, attend their meetings on time coordinating with the schedules, and complete in-class and out of class work. My biggest question to this is what about the ones without parents or other family members to help them at home. Drawing on Lindsay Donaldson’s Invisible mother, the schools expected someone to be there to help homeschool the students, but the mother, father, grandmother, etc in this situation cannot always be there to do that. The ones whose parents’ first language is not English, those with a single parent or parents who work all day or all night, the ones without a quiet space in their house, and those without access to the internet. These types of students are already the ones that are commonly falling through the cracks even when school is in-person. This method of E-learning is only sending them farther down the hole.
For example, on the first day that one of my kindergarteners came in, he had nearly 60 missing assignments. I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock. Whether his parents didn’t know he was supposed to be completing assignments or they did and weren’t able to help I didn’t know what this meant for where he was in class for grades. I contacted the teacher explaining the situation and asked if I should try to catch him up. We did about five assignments a day including the ones from that day’s lesson, but more than half were left uncompleted
Although it was in some ways necessary, I don’t think the schools should have put so much on the students. Like I previously mentioned, the kindergarteners can’t read or write. They aren’t able to work through assignments themselves, so they need someone to constantly be there. Their attention spans are also not long enough to sit through hours of virtual lessons yet that was the expectation. They would get so frustrated and tired asking me if they could take a break and I had to tell them that they had to wait until their class was over. I hated it because I don’t feel like the members were able to learn anyway. I was going through another one of my kindergartener’s announcement from the teacher where she said that the students were going to be reading independently the upcoming quarter and she recommended they continue to practice at home. Again, I was shocked and dismayed. I worked on letters and numbers one-on-one with him every day. But he still couldn’t correctly identify, write, or make the correct sound of the alphabet. He just wasn’t ready. And yet I’m seeing an announcement by his teacher that he was supposed to be. His case isn’t special either, this is the reality for so many students. (I will make the quick note that difficulties like this are not exclusive to just this time during the pandemic. I currently have fourth graders in my class who can’t count down from 20 or read at a basic level. However, I was still surprised to see the kindergarten teacher have that expectation considering the E-learning situation).
I’m not sure what the future will look like for these students, but the Club will continue to be a place whose mission is to fill the gaps of where the system fails the children.
Benfer, E.A., Vlahov, D., Long, M.Y. et al. (2021) Eviction, Health Inequity, and the Spread of COVID-19: Housing Policy as a Primary Pandemic Mitigation Strategy. J Urban Health (98),2. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-020-00502-1
Donaldson, L. (2020, May 11). Covid-19, (In)visible Mothers, and the State. Society for Cultural Anthropology. https://culanth.org/fieldsights/covid-19-invisible-mothers-and-the-state