When COVID-19 forced Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to close in March 2020, families found themselves struggling to adjust to remote learning. As a school district serving 160,000 students, MCPS is comprised of a diverse student body, with students from 164 countries speaking 184 languages. One-third of students benefit from Free and Reduced-Price Meals, and many receive English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) support and in-person special education courses -- all services that changed dramatically when schools closed.
Due to the closures, students throughout Montgomery County lacked technical support, internet access, and daytime supervision. Students also had to adjust to distractions at home, as well as the social isolation from being away from peers and teachers.
A Community Approach to Distance Learning
In fall 2020, certified childcare providers, The Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity and Excellence, MCPS, The Children’s Opportunity Fund at the Greater Washington Community Foundation, and community members came together to establish Educational Enrichment and Equity Hubs in Montgomery County. These enrichment centers, open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. and located in schools throughout Montgomery County, served kindergarten through 8th grade students and offered a safe learning environment for young people from low-income households to receive one-on-one support. All providers followed strict health and safety guidelines, provided meals and exercise/play activities, and assigned two staff members for each group of 13 students.
The Equity Hubs were also active academic partners, monitoring and assisting with distance learning and working to ensure that students excelled. Before joining the Equity Hub, Eduardo, a first grader with community-based partner Kids Co., struggled with number and letter identification, making it difficult to complete homework assignments.
“With help from staff, [Eduardo was] able to complete more assignments,” said Chantelle Miller, Director of Kids Co. “His teachers identified a new academic plan to measure his academic skills, specifically pertaining to math, and he seemed happier and more comfortable doing coursework.”
Community partners—from parents to childcare providers—have said the social aspects of the Equity Hubs improved students’ engagement, social-emotional skills, and overall mental health. Social interaction also helped younger students develop their sense of self and reach developmental milestones.
“All of our students [were] successful once they enrolled in our Hub,” said Jay Gerson, President of Kids Co. “They [were] coming every day and being consistent -- they [had] this fuel and motivation to go to school each day.”
Enrollment Assistance for Equity Hub Students
Quickly working to support families during a crisis comes with a price. Equity Hub providers initially charged $1,200 per month per child to support technology, certified staff, transportation, meals and snacks, and other resources.
The Greater Washington Community Foundation’s Children’s Opportunity Fund connected with concerned community partners and worked collectively to mobilize funds, raise awareness and began providing scholarships for students. In August and September 2020, the Children’s Opportunity Fund raised $500,000 in private philanthropy, allowing for the opening of four sites in September. In partnership with the Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity and Excellence, The Children’s Opportunity Fund began advocating to MCPS and the Montgomery County Council for additional funds to expand the Hubs to serve more students. Since September, an additional $550,000 in private philanthropy has been raised—leading to a total of over $1 million in private funds to support Equity Hubs.
Pat Rupert, a Children’s Opportunity Fund donor and Montgomery County resident, said that she first considered supporting the Equity Hubs when she started watching her five grandchildren in spring 2020.
“I kept thinking to myself, what about working parents who don’t have the resources or support from family and friends?” Rupert said. “I reached out to The Children’s Opportunity Fund to figure out what was being done to support these families, and that’s when I learned about Equity Hubs and felt inspired to be a part of [their] crucial work.”
The Power of Collaboration
The Children’s Opportunity Fund coordinated the work of many community partners, which created a single point of entry for families to help them navigate finding an Equity Hub that was a good fit for each family and student. Participating Partners worked to spread the word about the Equity Hubs: sharing flyers in English and Spanish, setting up a hotline to receive phone calls, and bringing on family engagement specialists to help get students enrolled.
Also, in close collaboration with MCPS, Equity Hubs were able to enroll students who were struggling the most with distance learning. Collaboration and coordination enabled this effort to reach students who would benefit from the Equity Hubs the most.
By blending public and private funds to complement efforts, The Children’s Opportunity Fund and its partners were able to utilize private funds to quickly pilot a new program and then acquire public funds to expand its reach to students throughout the community. In October 2020, the Montgomery County Council contributed $1.8 million to expand the Hubs throughout the County’s elementary schools, and MCPS committed another $1.8 million to support Equity Hubs.
The Children’s Opportunity Fund raised over $4.6 million to help the Equity Hubs enroll 1,500 students across 70 sites. In January 2021, MCPS and Montgomery County Council provided another $3.6 million to support them through March 2021, when in-person learning resumed.
Dr. Daman Harris, Principal at Wheaton Woods, said the Equity Hubs produced numerous benefits for students and the community.
“Before The Children’s Opportunity Fund got involved and alleviated concerns about costs, there were eight children signed up for our hub,” Harris said. “By February 2021, there were over 50 students enrolled.”
This work is not new to The Children’s Opportunity Fund. Started in 2016 by the Montgomery County Council and then established as a funding initiative led by the Greater Washington Community Foundation, The Children’s Opportunity Fund aims to close the opportunity gap by addressing racial inequities and expanding opportunities for marginalized children and families. The Fund brings together community members and government leadership to plan with, advocate for, and fund strategic investments that improve the lives of children and families.
Looking Toward the Future
The Equity Hubs successfully served thousands of students throughout the pandemic. Even as schools begin to reopen, the need to support our community’s children and families will continue, especially as the implications of the pandemic are more fully understood. The Children’s Opportunity Fund aims to continue working with the community and its partners to understand the evolving needs of the most vulnerable youth and families in order to close the steadily increasing opportunity gap in Montgomery County.
The Children’s Opportunity Fund can only do this work with the help of cross-sector partners across Montgomery County. You can play an active role in ensuring that young people continue to have access to safe, quality learning opportunities and enrichments that support their academic and personal development, regardless of socio-economic status, race, or housing situation. Join us to ensure that all children have access to the essential services and growth opportunities they need to thrive.