By Brian Sauer
Citywide Director of Education
Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco
When I ask other educators about the challenges they’ve faced in their online classrooms, they often express the same concern:
“With no end in sight to the pandemic, how are we going to overcome learning loss?”
“Learning loss” is a decline in students’ academic progress that often stems from spending the summer months away from school — and this year, the pandemic will exacerbate this “summer slide.” Reading-based curriculums and long Zoom calls have left our students isolated from the support systems they rely on for academic success. I see this in my work at Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco with students like William, a sixth grader and a youth member at our Mission Clubhouse, who confided that he was having trouble adjusting to his middle school classes at the start of the school year. “I just don’t like the computer,” he said. “I don’t want to do it that way.”
While all students face new challenges in this virtual environment, learning loss disproportionately impacts Black students, Latinx students, and low-income youth, many of whom cannot access the resources necessary to close this critical gap in their studies. And, for students who are also English-language learners (ELLs) or have individualized education plans (IEPs) to support their studies, the pandemic could mean falling even further behind — which likely will have long-lasting consequences for their education and future.
But at Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco’s Mission Clubhouse, William was able to lean on support from Yaya Enriquez-Meyer, a former Health & Fitness Director who now serves as a Program Leader to support distance learning during the pandemic. Yaya had met William two years prior, and the two developed a strong relationship through the Clubhouse’s health and fitness programs.
As the school year began, Yaya sat with William during his Zoom class and helped him work through his missing assignments, which totaled six to eight for each subject. Because William has trouble reading in English, Yaya also helped by reading assignments out loud to William to make sure he understood the course content. In just one month, William quickly developed a sense of independence in his studies. He’s now able to work on assignments on his own — and he trusts that Yaya is available to help if he needs any additional support.
William and Yaya’s bond is just one example of how Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco has been able to support children and youth with distance learning. Unlike most youth-serving nonprofits, we remained open throughout the spring and summer — and we used that time to identify how we could best meet the challenges and needs of our students during the pandemic. As we made a swift transition to virtual and distance-learning support, we devised solutions to mitigate the effects of learning loss and help our youth stay connected to their teachers and peers.
We made it a priority to strengthen our relationships with feeder schools through our Education Liaisons — a new position that communicates regularly with partner school administrators and teachers as they monitor student progress. These relationships have been critical to ensuring our students have the resources they need to succeed in this unfamiliar virtual environment, as well as a stable source of support to ground them in their education.
Having dedicated staff, like Yaya, to assist our youth has made an incredible difference. We have 10 open Clubhouses, comprising a significant part of the City’s Community Hubs Initiative. At these sites, we’ve created safe, temporary “classrooms” to support students through their online classes and assignments. Here, we’ve continued to provide daily breakfast and lunch, recreation, and mental health services for our students. And because we’ve kept our Clubhouses open, our children and teens are able to maintain the critical social connections they need to feel empowered in their studies.
The stress youth face during the pandemic also extends to their families. As an educator and a parent, I feel this at home with my kids, who are struggling to stay in touch with friends, keep up with assignments, and find time away from their screens to exercise and play. And, for the students I work with whose parents juggle two, three, sometimes four jobs to stay afloat during this economic downturn, these challenges are significantly compounded.
But our continued efforts for our youth members have allowed us to continue supporting parents like Rita LaFleur, a municipal driver for SFMTA. As an essential worker with a schedule that changes daily, Ms. LaFleur wasn’t sure how to balance her job with childcare for Kaiden, her second grader, as schools closed due to the pandemic in the spring. Our ability to keep our doors open helped relieve some of Ms. LaFleur’s stress as we were able to assist Kaiden with his studies at the Mission Clubhouse.
“I know a lot of parents couldn’t do this without Boys & Girls Clubs,” Ms. LaFleur said. “They have been a tremendous help for me and for so many other families.”
To me and my colleagues at the Clubs, community means everything. That’s why we’re determined to continue supporting San Francisco families, like the LaFleurs, during this difficult time — whether that means keeping our Clubhouses open for our youth, running virtual programs, or supporting food distribution.
From fighting learning loss to providing a safe environment for kids to learn and grow, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco will always put youth and their needs first — no matter what uncertainties the future may hold. I’m confident in our team’s ability to provide a safe space for San Francisco youth during this difficult time — and to make sure every child and teen who needs our support can continue finding it at Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco.
Brian Sauer has been a leader in the education field in the Bay Area for nearly two decades and has served Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco for five years as Citywide Director of Education. He began his career as an SFUSD classroom teacher, where he taught middle and high school courses in Biology and Mathematics.