How our community is creating new safe spaces for children to learn

Last summer, we worked with our safety net nonprofits to create safe places for children, so essential workers, like healthcare workers and first responders, could continue to do critical work. During the school year, safe spaces for children to learn became a crucial aspect of education. While our region begins to open up, safe places and educational resources continue to be a vital piece of what our community needs.

In 2020, more than 47,400 youth participated in out-of-school time programs through United Way funded partners and collective impact initiatives.

As we look ahead, our local nonprofit partners are remaining creative with how they answer the call for continued support and resources while working hard to create and maintain safe learning spaces for our region’s children.

Here are three ways your support of United Way is helping children in Missouri and Illinois continue to grow and learn this summer.

1. Outdoor learning brings hands-on experiences

When United Way supported Cornerstone Center for Early Learning reopened, they could only have one classroom at a time on their outdoor playground. So, Cornerstone knew they needed to find a way to ensure all the children still received the outdoor time they needed.

“The majority of children who attend Cornerstone Center for Early Learning live in urban areas with limited access to nature,” said Dani Smith, director of development at Cornerstone.

With help from local organizations, Cornerstone created an on-site community garden, which includes two greenhouses, an upgraded garden, and outdoor space. From tasting the produce (like basil) and learning about the insects and animals that live in the garden, this space gives children the opportunity to be outdoors while learning about responsibility through the ongoing care and upkeep of the garden.

2. Giving all students access to critical resources

Transitions to virtual learning this past year have shown how important access to technology is and have shed light on our community’s digital divide and its impact on some children’s school and learning experience. Recent research from Pew Research Center found that 1 in 5 parents say it’s somewhat likely that their children can’t finish school work because there is no computer or internet available.

United Way safety net nonprofit YWCA of Alton knew that their youth would need extra support. YWCA offered remote learning centers that continually helped 30 students with their schoolwork and through the adjustment periods of virtual and hybrid learning. These remote learning centers had trained staff attending to the students, ensuring they were on Zoom classes and seeing what the students were learning and struggling with at school. YWCA added technological upgrades to better internet access and adjust to each students’ new school schedule. As the year went on, they adapted to meet the district’s schedule.

“It is always important to us to provide a safe, nurturing environment for all our students at all times,” said Mallory Jones, assistant director of child enrichment at YWCA of Alton.

And as the school year comes to a close, the YWCA has almost 80 students enrolled for their Child Enrichment Summer Camp program, which bridges the gap in education with daily academics and weekly educational curriculum to keep students learning during the out-of-school summer months.

“At every turn, during this difficult year, they have helped our family manage remote, hybrid and in-person school,” said Yvette, a parent of a student in the YWCA programs. “Even with summer approaching, they will help bridge the gap with summer tutoring.”

3. Looking beyond school grounds to fully support students

Schools are a safe place for students to learn and receive support and guidance outside of the home. During COVID and virtual schooling, teachers and counselors lost the in-person connection with students that gives them the opportunity to recognize if something is hindering a student’s path forward.

A math teacher at Central Visual and Performing Arts School noticed that 9th grader Atzyri was falling behind in class and having a hard time with virtual learning, so the teacher reached out to the school’s team of student support staff, or the ‘CARE’ team. The CARE team helps students work through adjustment periods and things that may be holding them back in class, like absences, being late, and more. With support from United Way nonprofit partner St. Louis Public Schools Foundation, the CARE team was able to safely make a home visit to Atzyri and make that in-person connection with her. It was that personal connection that helped Atzyri connect back to the school and her work.

“I was happy and overwhelmed,” said Atzyri. “It was a full team, and they were all outside singing and dancing. I’m very grateful and thankful for that.”

Continuing Helping Here

Our network works to help children reach their education goals in safe and innovative ways by checking in on their progress and offering unique learning opportunities. When we come together, we are able to continue serving the more than 430,000 children in our Greater St. Louis region through our safety net each year.

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Alexandra Council is a proud Mizzou alumna, editor and St. Louis native who enjoys correcting grammar for fun. Besides pinpointing misplaced commas, she believes in hardcover books over Kindles and won’t turn down a good Netflix recommendation.

James Taylor
James Taylor