Boys & Girls Club working with schools

Sarah Wilkerson, Loudon County Boys & Girls Club director, makes sure network connections are working for virtual learners.

The Loudon County Boys & Girls Club in Lenoir City is working with area schools to ensure students have a successful year of learning.

With school back in session, the club has resumed after-school hours. Should schools go completely virtual, the nonprofit would transition to all day hours, Sarah Wilkerson, club director, said.

“We are working with them to try to provide an additional space for learning, and so we have worked with them and they have — our technology people went over and made sure that all of our Chromebooks would attach to their network and our software that we use for learning management systems would work, so they’ve gotten that done,” Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City director of schools, said. “The next step is to provide some training for Boys & Girls staff and how to access student lessons to help them with that. So those pieces are in place.”

Wilkerson said the club is also working with Loudon County Schools.

“They’re using the same platform as Knoxville,” Wilkerson said. “So our Knoxville clubs are doing virtual pods, and so some of my staff are learning that in Knoxville with those virtual pods, learning how to use those platforms as well and how that system would look like, and then we’ve also here at the club been doing some upgrades in our Wi-Fi and technology and our ability to handle that much capacity on Wi-Fi networks. So whether that’s additional access points or making sure that our firewalls don’t block out a school website and things like that is what we’ve been working on.”

Barker is talking with the Loudon County Education Foundation about funding extra positions at the club to help virtual learners. No agreement has been reached, she said.

“That’s just an example of how I believe our community has stepped up and is going to help our families as we are trying to navigate this opportunity for online and hybrid learning for our kids,” Barker said. “… So we’re trying and I feel good that something good will come out of it. I just can’t say right now it has.”

In the meantime, club staff members are helping students complete online homework.

“As with a normal school year, we encourage kids when they get here to get their homework done, just because they come here after school because their parents are working,” Wilkerson said. “What that means is that when parents get out of their job it’s hard to get everyone fed, maybe they need a shower, maybe they have a sports practice or something like that. So it’s really hard to prepare for a time to do homework. … So far, as far as virtually, because we’ve had kids with online homework before we’ve encountered technical issues such as Wi-Fi and things like that, it’s gone so much smoother as far as a virtual homework this year.”

With Lenoir City students in grades 7-12 on a hybrid schedule through Oct. 9, Wilkerson is in a “continuous conversation” with Barker about how the club can provide support. Opening the club for all day hours during the hybrid schedule would be tricky, although not completely out of the question, Wilkerson said.

“It’s a balancing act when you have certain grades that are in hybrid and then the rest is after-school,” she said. “So being able to balance that is different than I guess what we would expect if everyone were to go virtual.”