With less than a week before the September 14 opening, the city has filled only 700 of the 2,000 spaces allotted for the first phase of a community hub system to give children on-site help during their online classes, according to the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth, and their Families.
The agency is organizing the hub system that will eventually give help to 6,000 disadvantaged grade-school students in the San Francisco Unified School District.
Initially, all 2,000 slots were to be filled and open by Monday, but now, the agency will open in three waves over three consecutive weeks Mondays to ensure “disconnected families are given the opportunity to be the first to apply” said Dori Caminong, community engagement and communications manager for the Department of Children, Youth and Families, known as DCYF.
“Many of the families in our priority population require in-person conversations as part of the outreach, so it takes time,” Caminong said, referring to the low enrollment.
The department has currently organized 92 on-site hubs of varying sizes that will be operated by existing community based organizations at their own facilities, local parks, libraries, and other spaces.
Five sites in the first wave will open in the Mission on September 14. These include Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco, Jamestown Community Center, Buena Vista Child Care and a Recreation and Parks Department site, according to Caminong.
DCYF is currently prioritizing students in sixth grade or lower who are living in public housing, single-room occupancy hotels (SROs), or are homeless or in the foster system. Although they have slots for 2,000 students in the first phase, twice as many students fit into one of those categories.
But the program is off to a slow start and city leaders have been critical of its invite-only process. In addition, some community-based organizations said they have been unable to meet the staffing requirements.
The applications are by invitation only
Instead of a widely publicized open application, DCYF is working with community-based organizations and city offices like the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing to identify students who fit the criteria and offer the parents a space, according to Su.
During an August 14 joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors, the Board of Education, and the Community College of San Francisco Board of Trustees, committee members criticized the plan.
“I’m talking to African American parent leaders in our district who’ve never heard of this,” said Board of Education commissioner Alison Collins. “I’d love to know how you’re doing outreach, because it seems like you’re not reaching the people you’re intending to meet.”
Su and Sherrice Dorsey-Smith, the agency’s director of programs and grants, responded that their goal is not necessarily to spread awareness of this service, but rather to target only as many children as there are spaces available.
“I just don’t want us to, in any way, shape or form, stop collecting data on demand, based on the limited supply,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen during another joint meeting on Aug. 28. “I’d rather know what that demand is, so that we can continue to increase the supply.”
DCYF officials offered to leave a tab on their website that allows parents to sign up for email updates, but not an open application.
“One of my biggest fears is that it’s open and we have so many families start to believe or have the hope that they can potentially get into the hub and we would have to tell them no or turn them away,” Dorsey-Smith said.
Although DCYF has not identified all community-based organizations it is working with, some have come forward to say that staffing is an issue.
“As an after-school provider, we’re trying to pull together a full-time program with part time staffing,” said Mario Paz, executive director for Good Samaritan, a community-based organization that will be operating a hub out of Cavalry Hill Community Church.
The average staff member would work from 2 to 6 p.m. during the regular school year, so finding staff to work full-time has been a challenge, Paz said.
The SFUSD online-class hours vary from school to school, but can run from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., five days a week.
State guidelines for the hubs require that children and staff remain consistent in the same cohort. The guidelines prohibit using different shifts for the same cohort.
While Good Samaritan was initially hoping to operate three cohorts of 12, Paz says staffing shortages forced them to lower their capacity to just one.
State guidelines also mandate two staff members for each 14-child hub. Paz says that is not enough supervision for 14 students, and he predicted that, even with the hubs, the quality of education for disadvantaged students will be lower.
This expected learning loss has been a frequent topic of discussion for city and educational leadership, a catalyst in ever-widening educational disparities. Board of education commissioner Faauuga Moliga called it a public health issue.
Concerns also remain about students transmitting Covid-19. Children 17 years old or younger account for 11 percent of positive cases in the city since April, according to Ana Validzic, a program manager for the Department of Public Health.
The city’s summer camp program, which the hubs are based on, saw 38 positive covid-19 cases among 3,000 children, according to Su.
However, San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón pointed out that community hubs are likely to carry higher risk due to larger cohort sizes, longer program duration, and more time indoors.
For the Mission, one of the city’s highest positive case rate neighborhoods, DCYF has secured five sites which will serve 159 students for the first phase, Caminong said. She declined to name the community based organizations that have been chosen.
The second and third hub phases, set to open in October and November, will expand to older students, English learners and those who are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged.
While DCYF has not clearly stated the difference in priority populations between phases two and three, each phase will bring in 2,000 more students.
CORRECTION: Updated Sept. 8 3:30 p.m.
The following figures have been corrected: “The city’s summer camp program, which the hubs are based on, saw 38 positive covid-19 cases among 3,000 children, according to Su.”
It previously read: “The city’s summer camp program, which the hubs are based on, saw 38 positive covid-19 cases among 1,300 children, according to Su and Tamara Aparton, a Recreation and Parks Department spokeswoman.”
The previous figures conflated statistics from city-operated summer camps and all summer camps across the city.
We regret the errors and confusion.