Grant helps Woonsocket Summer Learning run through COVID

Grant helps Woonsocket Summer Learning run through COVID

Students eat at a cookout held at the C3 Center in Woonsocket, held as a part of Fun Fridays through the Summer Learning Initiative. (Breeze photo by Adam Zangari)
Registration for summer program still open

WOONSOCKET – The Woonsocket Summer Learning Initiative, located in the C3 Center at 120 Northeast St. in Woonsocket, has received a $142,000 grant from United Way.

The program has required a lot of innovation by partners and educators to run during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that innovation has led to a successful summer program in atypical times, say those behind it.

Getting this off the ground in four communities, including Woonsocket, took a lot of work to meet demanding challenges, paired with a $450,000 investment by United Way to bring a safe mix of in-person, virtual, and hybrid opportunities to children, many of whom missed substantial distance learning days.

Community partners in Woonsocket include NeighborWorks, Connecting for Children & Families, Community Care Alliance, and Riverzedge Arts. All of them have had an impact in setting up the initiative to run as it has been during the pandemic.

Sandra Costa of CCF is the program manager, and Amanda Charchafliah is education coordinator.

Educators noted that the program needed to be flexible because some children in the community have had to take on additional roles or are in a more dire financial situation due to the pandemic. Reflecting this, students can tune in whenever they can and attend in-person events at the C3 Center on “Fun Fridays.”

“In terms of the actual structure, typically from 12 to 8 daily there are various online platforms for them to go on,” said Monique Austin, a partner with NeighborWorks.

There had been a degree of uncertainty about how the program would run as guidelines for staying socially distant were updated. Austin noted that “every week it was changing,” and that the creativity in figuring out solutions to open safely has been a challenge for everyone involved.

A portion of the grant from United Way has also gone to stipends for children to help their families financially. The stipends are given for classes and courses that they attend, and are available both to children who can show up in person and children who take classes online.

“Students will get points for every class they attend, and then that translates into their cash stipend,” Austin said.

The rest of the grant has gone to keeping the program going, and giving materials to the children involved in the program so that they can participate from their homes.

“The state’s been able to provide (personal protective equipment), but some of the money went to PPE costs. Another thing is we’ve got to have somebody come in and clean and sanitize this space, so when we’re done today the cleaning company will come in over the weekend so that next week it will be safe,” Austin said.

Members said they were acting as the “ears” of the children, and listening to their concerns to build a safe community.

“This year, we got a lot of feedback from the youth. We had a couple of youth town halls, and they had identified that a lot of what they need is support, particularly social and emotional,” Marlene Guay, a partner with NeighborWorks, said.

Allyson Marino, a site coordinator for the Chillin’ and Skillin’ art program, also emphasized how much help each of their community partners have been.

“We utilize a lot of community partners, like Roger Williams Park Zoo, RiversEdge Arts right over here in Woonsocket, Rhythm Room, remote for the Rhode Island Museum of Science and Art,” she said.

Programs offered by the Summer Learning Initiative are widely varied, and include cooking classes, art classes, physical fitness classes, book clubs, and different problem-solving courses, which have mostly moved online. The program also includes virtual field trips to places such as the New England Aquarium and the RISD Museum.

The Summer Learning Initiative has been integral in building a community.

“While I do hope that the kids see an improvement in their reading and their math scores, which is typically the target of our program, this year it’s more about just coming together,” Guay said.

“I’m so thankful for the relationships that the staff here has with the students. Students are calling and texting them, so if something comes up at home they know it,” Austin said.

Grants of similar sizes went to programs in Central Falls, Cranston, and Newport.

Registration for the Summer Learning Initiative is still open, and all of their programs are free and still have openings. The initiative runs through Aug. 10.