As San Francisco schools prepare to open this month, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco is poised to play a critical role in mitigating pandemic learning loss and supporting our members’ academic success. Because we remained open and active in our members’ lives throughout the pandemic, our relationships with youth and their families are stronger than ever. This makes us well-positioned to help address some of the long-term impacts of the pandemic and pave the road toward our members’ academic, social, and emotional recovery.
In the last year, we’ve seen BGCSF’s role in our kids' lives grow and change immensely. The pandemic exponentially increased the need for both educational and emotional support, and our staff were there to meet that need. Recognizing that mitigating learning loss and addressing socioemotional health are key factors in helping our youth confront the effects of the pandemic, our Board of Governors has allocated significant resources to these objectives. Our staff are now trained and equipped to approach everything they do with these priority objectives in mind.
Citywide Director of Education Brian Sauer says, “This is actually a positive outcome of the pandemic. Staff members have become cross-trained across all our programmatic areas, with a particular emphasis on supporting academic success and socioemotional health.”
This more holistic approach to our staff members’ training and responsibilities aligns with BGCSF’s whole-child approach, which recognizes the importance of socioemotional health, extracurricular activities, leadership programs, and social development to kids’ academic and overall success.
With mitigating learning loss in mind, Sauer worked with BGCSF staff and partner organizations to develop an 8-week summer literacy curriculum. It has become a keystone of our summer programming at 11 Clubhouses this summer.
“Although we have always offered a summer literacy program,” Sauer says, “this year we were much more intentional about developing a curriculum to address learning loss, implementing it Citywide, and training every staff member to support it. We designed material to be easily accessible and fun for both staff and youth, building customized academic resources, including individual workbooks for each child, that have been incredibly well-received. This literacy curriculum is something we’ll continue to tweak, modify, and use year after year.”
Socialization was another priority this summer. The pandemic has been incredibly isolating for kids of every age. We’ve seen it at our Clubhouses and at Camp Mendocino: Youth are no longer accustomed to being around large groups of people. That is going to be a big challenge when they’re back in the classroom. That’s why our contribution this summer is so critical: We’re focused on getting kids back together, socializing with their peers and mentors, learning, and having fun at the same time. This builds their capacity to grow academically, and it’ll be a great benefit as they start the new school year.
Looking toward the upcoming academic year, our goal is to create a seamless bridge between school, the Club, and home. There’s no doubt that this will be an immensely challenging year, but we are going to be there every step of the way to help youth meet and rise above these challenges. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Education shows a drop in academic achievement, a spike in mental health challenges, and an increased disparity for students of color, who already faced significant barriers to educational opportunity. After more than a year of disruption, schools and teachers are going to face significant challenges as they reopen again. We’ll be there to work alongside them, leveraging the strong relationships and trust we’ve built with our members and their families to produce the best outcomes for our youth.
We have added new staff positions to address the additional academic and behavioral-health needs brought on by the pandemic. Each of our Clubhouses now has an Educational Liaison who is there to support every member’s academic success. While our Education Directors are tasked with running our learning centers, developing academic programs, and supervising large groups of kids at a time, our Educational Liaisons are there to identify and support each member’s individual needs. They’ll be in constant communication with schools and teachers to ensure students are staying on track. When problems do arise, they’ll be there to pull in additional staff, tutors, and other resources to help our youth succeed.
Assistant Clubhouse Director, Julia Meier was an Education Liaison during the past school year. She says "Throughout last school year, communicating with schools and teachers was critical to not only the success of the youth academically, but also to supporting their whole well-being. We identified a plethora of ways the Club could offer support, including behavioral health services, tutoring sessions, therapy, and socioemotional wellness-focused activities. This pandemic made it clear that youth development truly does take a village. Together, we can show our kids, ‘You are not alone, you have a large support network, and we will get through this together.’”
Recognizing the significant increase in youth experiencing depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues due to the pandemic, we have also doubled the size of our Behavioral Health Services team, adding a BHS specialist to each of our Clubhouses. These experts work to ensure that all our kids get the emotional support they need to succeed. (You can read more about our work to support youth mental health in this recent blog post.) These additional positions, which our Board of Governors invested in as a direct response to the pandemic, give us an even greater ability to holistically support our youth. We are now better positioned to recognize when problems arise, and address them before they become a serious threat to a child’s future success.
As students return to school, we will continue to be a consistent source of high-quality youth-development programs and services. We’re not replicating what goes on in a school day; we’re complementing it. Things like sports, art classes, music lessons, and leadership programs build important skills and confidence, while giving kids more reasons to attend school and engage in their own learning. Our organization-wide focus on behavioral health and socioemotional wellness will be equally important in helping our students succeed.
It is also important to recognize that helping youth recover from the impact of this pandemic is an ongoing, ever-changing process. It’s not going to happen overnight; it’s going to take years. We are training our staff, planning our programs, and allocating our resources accordingly. Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco will continue to adapt, throughout this school year and over the next several years, to ensure we are doing everything we possibly can to help youth fully recover from this time and realize their full potential. We are grateful to every member of this community who invests in Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco.