A Los Angeles community center is providing a safe space for students to learn, as schools in Los Angeles Unified School District remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Hope Street Margolis Family Center, a community benefit program of Dignity Health’s California Hospital Medical Center, provides child development, education, family support and community wellness programs for the surrounding communities.
The family center has typically provided a number of education services, including family literacy, school readiness and after-school programs. In the after-school program, children receive homework assistance and participate in extracurricular activities, said Gina Avila, the education services coordinator at Hope Street.
However, with the pandemic, Hope Street was forced to pivot its services, said Alina Moran, CEO of Dignity Health’s California Hospital.
LAUSD closed its doors in mid-March, as COVID-19 cases began to rise across the country. In April, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner announced that schools would remain closed for the rest of the school year and summer, and in July, he told families that schools would also be closed in the fall.
When the center learned students would not be returning to the classroom for the academic school year, Avila said they decided the center might be able to help the community.
“So what we did was really think of what were the needs that our families and especially our children were presenting,” Moran said. “And one of them was really access to an area where they could do social distance learning, where they could have access to computers and to Wi-Fi.”
Many children don’t have a space to learn or have access to the internet or a working computer at home, Avila said. While many have received Chromebooks from schools, she said some of the computers do not work or some schools ran out of Chromebooks.
This led the center to open up virtual school services, while following strict guidelines of social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing, Avila said.
Hope Street serves about 50 students, from first grade to high school, providing them with a safe learning space, access to computers and Wi-Fi, and breakfast and lunch.
The services give students the opportunity to be in a classroom setting, receive support and interact with other students while social distancing, Moran said.
“It’s a positive learning environment, a space where they can come and get their work done, get the help they need to get through their virtual assignments, access their classrooms and also be in a setting where they’re still able to socialize distantly with some of their peers,” Avila said.
Moran added the center’s services are especially important right now since many families are dealing with their own challenges. Avila said many of the families they serve already struggled financially and the pandemic has caused immense stress and financial strain.
“It was big,” she said. “And then to be told on top of that, that not only are they going to have to put food on the table and a roof over their head, but now they have to provide an educational environment for their kids.”
Additionally, many of the families Hope Street serves are English language learners, which made this task overwhelming for students and families, Avila said.
“As a resource center, as a community center, it was kind of our responsibility to do that and make sure that our students succeeded this year and kind of take a load off of our hard-working parents,” she said.
Moran added that the goal of the center is to educate children, assist families and transform the communities it serves.
“We’re so fortunate here at California Hospital to have a program that makes such an impact and really helps us to provide services outside of the walls of the hospital and … build healthier and stronger communities,” she said.