August 28, 2020 10:14:24 AM
Board games are out, outdoor activities are in.
The Columbus branch of the Boys and Girls Club of the Golden Triangle has resumed its after-school program, but the specter of COVID-19 has changed almost every aspect of the club's operations.
Now open for the first time since March 13, the club is mirroring the schedule of the Columbus Municipal School District from which most of its members are drawn.
"Unfortunately, right now we're only open to the hybrid students from the school district," said Columbus branch director Brittany Turner. "We are working on a plan to allow us to take in children who are in the virtual program, but we haven't put all the pieces of that together yet."
For now, the club is open only to hybrid school students from both the Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday schedules with the club closed on Wednesday. Turner said staff will use Wednesdays for sanitation and program preparation.
The club's attendance is less than a third of normal.
"We have nine children in each of our five classrooms, so that's 45 kids," Turner said. "Normally, we would have about 30 kids in each classroom."
Members are screened outside at the club's entrance. During pick-ups, parents must stay outside and call the club. A staff member then escorts the child outside to the waiting parent.
"We're trying to offer as many things as we've offered before, but we've had to find different ways to do it," Turner said.
Instead of indoor activities like board games and those that make it difficult to maintain social distancing, the club will allow more outdoor activities, including garden club and soccer.
In the past, multiple classrooms were allowed to go to the gym to play sports. Now, Turner said, classes are allowed to use the gym one class at a time.
"Having nine kids in the gym at a time allows us to make sure we're meeting all the safety requirements," Turner said. "We still want our kids to have access to all the facilities, but COVID-19 has forced us to find different ways to do that."
Turner said another challenge presented to the club has been fundraising.
"Normally, we have a lot of fundraising events, but this year the only event we are going to continue is our golf tournament," she said. "Because of the situation, we're putting a lot of emphasis on reaching out to donors who may have participated in those other fundraisers. We're hopeful that the community will step up and fill that gap."
In Starkville, club director Shaniqua Morgan said the biggest challenge is making the club experience as normal as possible while implementing the necessary changes to ensure safety.
"We're trying to stay with our programs as much as we can," Morgan said. "That means doing things a little differently, especially when it comes to social distancing. For example, we used to have a general area for supplies and the kids could just pick out what they wanted or needed. Now, each child has his own kit for anything they might need."
Like it is in Columbus, the biggest change is in the numbers of children the club is now serving.
"Prior to COVID, we had about 120 to 140 children in our after-school program," Morgan said. "Now, we have 46. That allows us to make sure they are six feet apart. There's no way we could do that with 120 kids here."
Morgan said one thing that has changed overtly is who is allowed inside the club facilities.
"We don't allow visitors or guest speakers like we have done before," she said.
While the clubs in Columbus and Starkville are bringing children into their facilities, the West Point club will operate virtually, providing programs and events through videos made by staff members. The virtual after-school program in West Point begins Sept. 8.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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