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Philadelphia is opening 31 free centers across the city to host students who can’t safely stay at home during days of digital school learning.
Most of the “Access Centers” will serve around 22 students each and will require registration, with priority given to “students with the highest need who can’t safely stay at home during the school day,” Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration said in a news release.
The centers will operate weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and provide access to internet. Students will be supervised and receive meals and recreational activities.
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“As the ongoing COVID-19 crisis creates additional challenges for families, we are proud of the continued collaboration between City departments and our community partners to create resourceful, responsive solutions like the new Access Centers,” Deputy Mayor Cynthia Figueroa said.
The first phase of the center openings will begin Sept. 8 and serve 800 students from kindergarten to sixth grade. All students in the city will be eligible to use the centers, regardless of whether they attend a public, charter or private school, Figueroa said.
Centers will be added on a rolling basis, with 50 sites expected to open by Sept. 21 and more added if needed, she said.
Though he acknowledged that the need for access center spots will likely be “significantly” larger than the 800 which will be initially provided, Superintendent William Hite said he was grateful that some help is being given to families.
“I’m elated that the city is coordinating this effort, and I’ve said all along it’s going to take more than the School District of Philadelphia to pull us through this period in which we are living, trying to address and respond to this pandemic,” he said.
Most of the sites will operate out of existing Parks and Recreation rec centers, in addition to Free Library of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Housing Authority sites. The sites will adhere to the city’s health and safety guidelines, with staff getting “appropriate training and child-abuse clearances,” the city said.
“We have worked closely with the different school systems to have [the centers] be as safe as possible," said Dr. Thomas Farley, the city's health commissioner. "As safe as possible does not mean that there’s no risk to having the infection; you could have risk of infection going anywhere.”
The city’s guidance for students to qualify to be placed in an access center are as follows:
- If they are entering Kindergarten through 6th grade.
- If they are children of caregivers working outside the home who cannot provide supervision or are not able to afford childcare.
- If they have no in-home internet.
The question of supervising kids during digital learning days has been a point of consternation for Philadelphia's working parents ever since the School District of Philadelphia announced that it would begin the fall semester fully online. The access centers are intended as a way to help those parents by making sure someone is supervising their kids while they are at work.
Similarly, the city has moved to provide reliable internet access to about 35,000 household as part of its new PHLConnectEd program.
The Kenney administration said more information about registration for the access centers will be posted on the city’s website the week of Aug. 24.