While there has rightly been much discussion about how schools should respond to the COVID-19, fewer conversations have taken place about the future of after school programs. Yet such programs provide a supportive, safe, and social atmosphere that allows students to take advantage of programming based on their interests, have access to wi-fi, and get a snack or meal.
Like many other institutions, the NewBridge Cleveland Center for Arts & Technology was not prepared for such “a drastic and long-term disruption” to their work, according to Steven Lake, Vice President of Development and Community Affairs. Nevertheless, after some “strategy discussions,” NewBridge was able to take advantage of their “nimble structure,” something that has been a trademark since their founding in 2010.
The flexibility of that structure allowed them to prioritize a series of important questions: “How were [our students] and their families doing? Were their basic needs being met? Did everyone have basic essentials to keep them and their families safe? What happens if they or a parent loses their job? Can we serve as an essential resource for the community?”
After contacting their students and their families and making the appropriate referrals, NewBridge turned their attention to their programming. Lake reports that “Within a couple months’ time, we transitioned all of our programming online, training and programming were underway for adults and youth, and we were operating a socially-distanced ‘safe space’ for teens a few times a week, including meals, access to technology and Wi-Fi, and someone to talk to.”
Their students are pleased. Omarrion, 17 (John Hay Cleveland School of Science and Medicine), says that “NewBridge is a place of escape from home during quarantine. When I’m here, I feel more calm and happy, as opposed to being in the house with very little to do. I get to see my friends and familiar faces that I haven’t seen in a while.”
Tamiya, 17 (John Hay – Cleveland School of Science and Medicine), reports a similar reaction: “This program to me means an opportunity to be semi-social while in a pandemic. Also, having a clean, safe haven to go to while in quarantine. Also, being able to express my artistic side.”
One of NewBridge’s teachers, Bethany Monteiro, reinforces the importance of re-opening, even with a different format. “I [saw] that our students [needed] more hope…something to empower them every day and look forward to doing. Many of our students expressed feelings of disconnect, not just with the outside world…but with themselves, as well.” She explains that NewBridge offers “a program that helps build their hope and connection to each other and the world.”
What’s more, NewBridge serves adults as well as teens and has been just as flexible with that programming. Lake says that the adult program offers “a hybrid learning model, which is largely virtual, with the exception of our required hands-on technical skills training in Phlebotomy and Patient Care.” He adds that they’ve converted space to allow for “a rotating socially-distanced learning lab where 1-2 students can learn directly from our instructor in the lab. The students rotate throughout the week, and this supports the one-to-one learning experience that many of our students have come to expect from a NewBridge education.”
Upon successful completion of either program, the adults receive a nationally-recognized portable credential. Shyan Green, a student in the Patient Care program, expresses gratitude to NewBridge for helping her achieve her goal of becoming a nurse, a dream she’s had since she was 17. “This program has been a life saver,” she says, “because I was ready to just give up and simply deal with any job. But I found NewBridge, and it turned out to be very helpful.”
Green points out that the pandemic came close to destroying her plans and says that she was relieved when NewBridge reopened. Her determination to achieve her dream is clear, as is her gratitude to the NewBridge program: “I’ve had many downs and struggles to where I should have probably been kicked out, but they’ve given me chance after chance, and I am grateful to them all for that.”
Describing the current situation as “a make it or break it period for me,” Green views her experience with NewBridge as a major factor in whether she will be able to “finally get my foot into the door of my dream job.” She doesn’t plan to allow the pandemic to stop her and sees NewBridge as important to her ability to keep moving forward.
Lake is optimistic about NewBridge’s future. In addition to their commitment to racial equity and inclusion, he expresses certainty that whatever lies ahead, “NewBridge will be ready.” One of the ways they are preparing for this future is by recognizing that resources may be limited and that they need to develop more community partnerships. Partnerships this summer have included University Hospital, Open Doors Academy, and the Cleveland Public Library.
Lake encourages both teens and adults to investigate NewBridge’s programming, which ranges from their Phlebotomy program to the kinds of social-emotional learning opportunities that have become increasingly essential during this pandemic.
NewBridge truly does serve as a bridge to guide its students through this pandemic, a bridge to help teens and adults move from where they are to where they want to be. If you are able to support their efforts, the NewBridge website offers 5 different ways to donate. You may also contact Steven Lake at 216-867-9775.