Boys & Girls Club of San Marcos – Bridging the Digital Divide
In a “normal” year, the Boys & Girls Club of San Marcos (BGCSM) serves over 4,000 youth members ages 6-18 in after school programs and during school breaks. But, as we all know, 2020 is anything from normal… Today, BGCSM is serving as a Distance Learning Center to meet the critical needs of students and families in the San Marcos community.
“I can’t emphasize enough the important role Boys & Girls Club is playing in our region,” says Cathy Baur, newly appointed President & CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of San Marcos. “For our families having our doors open means they can go to work with the reassurance that their children will have the support they need to succeed in online learning and be well cared for by our staff.”
Cathy assumed her new role September 1 after just a 45-day retirement from California State University San Marcos where she was Vice President for University Advancement and had served the campus for 12 years.
“I was compelled to join the Boys & Girls Club of San Marcos because I felt it was and could play such an important role in helping bridge the growing educational equity divide,” says Cathy. “It became very apparent as COVID-19 progressed and schools began adopting on-line models that families with means would be augmenting virtual learning by hiring personal tutors, nannies or other types of support – faster internet, better computer systems, etc. For parents who might be struggling financially, those options don’t exist. It started to feel like the speed of your internet might ultimately determine the quality of your child’s education.”
“BGCSM has always been there to support the kids in our region working to help them not only succeed academically but grow into strong leaders for our community. With COVID-19, the team at BGCSM quickly pivoted and came up with plans to support kids and families during this crisis and I feel so honored to be a part of this organization.”
Following only a brief shut down this spring, the Club quickly adapted. BGCSM launched #VirtualClubhouse to offer daily video activities and virtual mentoring to youth when in-person programs closed due to COVID-19. The Club also served over 25,000 free meals to local families during the health crisis.
In mid-August, the main branch of BGCSM opened as a Distance Learning Center to support working families as San Marcos Unified School District began the new school year with remote instruction. BGCSM staff assist the students with navigating the complexities of on-learning. As a Distance Learning Center, BGCSM is in constant communication with San Marcos Unified School District principals, faculty, social workers and teachers to better adapt its support to meet the needs and expectations of each school in the district.
“BGCSM staff, and even Branch Director, are in direct communication with our teachers and admin to help best support our students. They walk over to pick up materials, troubleshoot technical issues, and discuss ways to better assist students who are struggling. Without them, many students would be home alone (likely not online) or parents would have to stay home causing additional financial hardship. The Boys & Girls Club have been invaluable partners in supporting our school and students, especially during Distance Learning,” said Julie Blide, Assistant Principal at San Marcos Elementary.
Prior to opening, BGCSM implemented an extensive COVID-19 safety plan. The Club enhanced daily cleaning procedures, including adding additional staff focused on safety and cleanliness support. These individuals operate on an hourly schedule with the goal of cleaning commonly touched areas. In addition to an enhanced cleaning routine, BGCSM integrated daily health screenings, temperature checks, and reduced building capacity to ensure a 11:1 youth to staff ratio, which is half the typical program ratio. BGCSM further limits the rotation of students between program spaces to reduce cross contamination. Each of these safety measures is done with staff, students and families safety and health in mind. To date, the Club has avoided any community outbreak of COVID-19.
After the virtual school day ends, students participate in BGCSM traditional after school enrichment programs. These programs focus on strengthening skills in STEM, arts & cooking as well as promoting physical and social-emotional wellness.
BGCSM has also integrated social and emotional wellness support into its weekly Club programming under the full-time Director of Member Impact, who holds a Master’s degree in Social Work. Wellness programming provides students with one-on-one or small group support to process feelings and emotions, encourage healthy coping and connection, and combat isolationism. Students are encouraged to build their capacity for self-esteem, trust and healthy relationship building.
In opening the Distance Learning Center, priority was given to families of first responders and essential workers and a lottery system was utilized to fill the remaining slots. Due to social distancing restrictions, the Club was only able to accept 88 students.
Hundreds are on a wait list to take part in BGCSM Distance Learning Center. Working to address the demand, BGCSM is partnering with North City and California State University San Marcos on a creative solution–expand the Distance Learning Center program to The QUAD (CSUSM student housing), which sits largely unoccupied due to COVID-19. Plans are for BGCSM to utilize classroom space to serve another 30 students. BGCSM is currently working to secure the necessary funding to help serve more families on their waiting list. As San Marcos Unified School District prepares to re-open its on-campus sites, BGCSM is working closely with each school to modify its after-school/hybrid program to best serve students.
COVID-19 has also played havoc with BGCSM funding. Its largest fundraiser was cancelled and revenue from summer day camp programs lost. As an organization, the cost of keeping BGCSM’s doors open has tripled due to enhanced safety measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
For all of us, 2020 is a year unlike any other. The Boys & Girls Club of San Marcos is adapting, pivoting and working hard to ensure it still fulfills on its mission to inspire and enable all young people to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens.