SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - As COVID-19 keeps most Santa Barbara County schools closed to in-person learning, United Way of Santa Barbara County is doing its part to solve educational challenges that many families face with remote learning.
Last week, UWSBC announced its 'Learning & Enrichment Centers Collaborative' that partners with several local non-profits and school districts to fund learning centers for children in need of supervision, meals and a stable internet connection that they otherwise may not have at home.
“Just really providing that safe space for them to be themselves,” said Kristina Webster, Director of Programs for Girls Inc. of Santa Barbara. “Having someone there who’s helping them keep track of their assignments.”
So far, UWSBC has raised nearly $700,000 for the Collaborative, bringing about 500 students into nine learning centers across the county through at least the fall semester. There is overwhelming need--with county school districts estimating as many as 13,000 students qualify for the extra assistance.
The Collaborative's current goal is to serve 750 to 1,000 of the county's most vulnerable students.
Current learning centers could expand and more could open as more students are brought in. Some students did not participate in any remote learning lessons until they arrived at a learning center.
Currently, the students are coming from three high-need target populations: foster and homeless youth, students who qualify for free and reduced meals and children of essential workers.
“We’re able to bring students into a center where they’re able to access computers, they’re able to access adult supervision and support,” said United Way of Santa Barbara County CEO Steve Ortiz.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District has the largest share of learning center scholarships (151) and allocated funds ($187,440).
“The needs keep changing rapidly,” said Hilda Maldonado, superintendent for Santa Barbara Unified. “We fill one need, another one pops up. So these are the times we’re in right now. And I’m just incredibly grateful to the United Way, to others who have stepped up to the plate.”
Maldonado says the district is now bringing small special education and English-learner cohorts, as well as athletic workouts, back to campuses. She plans to "learn and observe" how the moves affect infection rates before deciding whether to move forward with reopening schools or postponing further. She also wants to hear feedback from the community.
The Collaborative's funding is being raised by local foundations, corporations and citizens. It goes toward buying the supplies and technology needed to get students connected to their curriculums. It also allows non-profits to hire additional staff needed to supervise the students.
The downtown Santa Barbara Girls Inc. staff have been among the many working hard to keep students on track.
“One of our big challenges and things that we’re working out is how we support the girls who are all doing different things at different times,” Webster said. “They have different login information for all of their different platforms. Everyone’s on a slightly different schedule.”
Even if Santa Barbara County moves into lower tiers as part of the state's reopening plan and more schools begin to restart in-person learning, most will likely do so with a hybrid model, thus leaving a lasting need for these remote learning centers.
To learn more about the Learning & Enrichment Centers Collaborative, you can click here.