Four weeks after the city’s Community Hubs Initiative began, the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families has enrolled only 1,095 of the 2,000 students it said would be in the hubs by now, DCYF Executive Director Maria Su announced Friday.
At the inception of the program, DCYF committed to enrolling 6,000 of the district’s highest-need students this semester at a rate of 2,000 per month from September to November.
Community hub site administrators in the Mission said fear of Covid-19 and difficulty in outreach to monolingual Spanish-speaking families have hindered enrollment.
Others blame the department’s invite-only strategy on enrollment — one designed to target the neediest students.
Supervisor Hilary Ronen has stressed the importance of making the process of enrolling kids into Community Hubs more widely accessible and generating as many applications as possible.
“Every time I talk to a teacher, whether it’s my own child’s teacher, or teachers that are friends of mine, they all say, ‘We don’t even know this exists. Of course, I can tell you right now who needs those spots,’” Ronen said during Friday’s meeting.
In the same meeting, DCYF put its total number of hub sites at 55, down from the 92 it reported in September.
Su also said Friday that the 55 sites were all the sites that would be available for the entire initiative, an indication that the department does not expect to get anywhere close to the planned enrollment of 6,000 children.
The San Francisco Unified School District’s roughly 52,000 students are currently still attending classes exclusively online, making the hubs a vital resource for parents unable to provide childcare during the week. The on-site Community Hubs are designed for students struggling with a lack of social interaction, technical issues, or an inability to retain material relayed through a computer screen.
But it’s a resource without many students.
The second enrollment phase, which starts on Oct. 26, was initially meant to bring in 2,000 new kids, but only 340 slots will be available, according to figures presented by Mele Lau-Smith, executive director for the District’s Community Schools and Family Partnerships office, at the same meeting Friday.
DCYF officials did not return several requests for comment, so the reasons for these changes are not completely clear. However, it could simply be the lower-than-expected enrollment.
Mission Local previously reported that, less than a week prior to opening on Sept. 14, DCYF had only enrolled about 700 children — far short of the goal of 2,000.
Su shared during the Friday meeting that her department had reached out to more than 3,200 families.
The rationale for the invite-only strategy, provided multiple times by Su and DCYF’s Director of Programs and Grants, Sherrice Dorsey-Smith, was to ensure that the department would provide spaces only to students in specific high-need areas.
But data from Friday’s meeting revealed that only around 42 percent of the children currently enrolled in these Community Hubs actually fit the stated target populations for the first phase: foster youth, homeless youth, children living in single-room-occupancy hotels and public housing.
When asked by Board of Education Commissioner Alison Collins why the priority populations did not constitute 100 percent of the hub children, Su said that she would have to ask her team members that put the data together and come back with an answer.
Lau-Smith said that 76 percent of students at the Community Hubs were of low socioeconomic status, an area that DCYF initially planned to target in the second phase.
Lau-Smith also stated that there are a total of 883 district students in the hubs, while Su put the total number of hub participants at 1,095. The remaining 212 students presumably attend private schools.
In the Mission, of the 98 students enrolled in a Community Hub, approximately 42 attend St. Peter’s Parish School, a private Catholic school for Kindergarten through sixth grade.
The hub, operated by Buena Vista Child Care, has adapted significantly over the last month to meet the needs of students, administrators said.
Initially, the hub had four isolated cohorts of less than 12 students each, one for kindergarten, one for first and second grade, one for third and fourth grade and one for fourth and fifth grade.
But the varying class times for each grade level made it difficult for staff to give each student individualized attention, and the school’s internet connection could not keep up with dozens of computers simultaneously streaming live video, according to Judy Diaz, the executive administrative director for Buena Vista.
In response, staff purchased smart TVs and separated students into eight cohorts of individual classes so that each class could stream their Zoom meeting on a TV for all students to see, rather than each individual student signing into the call.
While the changes made for a more cohesive classroom environment, the situation at Buena Vista is unique, in that the hub only has children from St. Peter’s. Most other hubs have students from several schools.
Buena Vista also retained many children from their summer program, simplifying the process of enrollment.
According to Christian Medina Beltz, who works for the Jamestown Community Center, a Mission-based organization operating a hub site on Valencia and 19th streets for fewer than a dozen children, the largest obstacles to increasing enrollment are outreach and Covid-19-related apprehension.
“We work with a lot of immigrant and first-generation families that don’t speak English. This information isn’t as accessible to non-English-speaking families that aren’t in the know,” Beltz said. “And the Mission has been hit particularly hard; people are seeing their friends, their family, their neighbors getting sick, so there’s an extra level of worry and stress here.”
City-operated childcare programs did a fine job of mitigating Covid-19 transmission over the summer, as evidenced by the low number of Covid-19 cases and almost no transmission across isolated cohorts of students.
But communities with disproportionately high infection rates are the same communities most in need of these services, and may remain skeptical of the safety of hubs, Beltz said.
Those involved in the Community Hubs say they are happy with their students’ experiences but, as Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer said during Friday’s meeting, “Good intentions, without good work, means nothing! People depend on us to do more.”
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