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'After school programs are still vital and provide critical services to children in our area.'

As 2020 comes to a close, we wanted to highlight a couple of great after school programs that have pivoted to provide hope during this time of historical disruption.

Eliseo Flores, from Centro Cultural, and Roberto Bermejo, from the Hillsboro Inukai Family Boys & Girls Club, shared with us how they've continued to serve students and uphold safety guidelines to further the missions of their organizations. Even during a pandemic, after school programs are still vital and provide critical services to children in our area. Both Eliseo and Roberto have ensured that can happen.

COURTESY PHOTO: WASHINGTON COUNTY KIDS - Eliseo Flores

Is your organization still taking care of kids? How many?

Eliseo: Centro Cultural has been making sure to take care of not only our students, but their families as well. Our organization wants to make sure to provide families with help and resources.

Roberto: We have been operating with a cap of 50 children. After moving online in the spring, we returned to in-person instruction in the fall and it has gone pretty well. It is a fairly large drop from our usual numbers of 140-150, though it has allowed us a smaller mentor to student ratio.

How has your program pivoted in this time of disruption?

Eliseo: Luckily, we were able to run extremely successful online programs. We were able to pre-record lessons and upload them Monday through Thursday, and on Fridays we ran virtual presentations with industry professionals that our students really enjoyed.

Roberto: We have created a detailed safety protocol. Everyone must wear a mask, follow a hand washing schedule, staff sanitize the building throughout the day, only one child is permitted to use the restroom at a time, etc.

COURTESY PHOTO: WASHINGTON COUNTY KIDS - Roberto Bermejo

What changes have served you well?

Eliseo: I think that our organization's ability to adapt and problem solve has been amazing.

Roberto: The fact we have a smaller mentor to student ratio has been very helpful. We are eager for the day we can allow more students in, but for now the smaller ratio allows us to spend more one on one time with our kids. That has been an unexpected positive.

Do you have any parent/student interactions to share that have made you hopeful?

Eliseo: At the beginning of each week, during our summer program, students and parents would come to pick up materials for the upcoming lessons. One family made sure to document each activity to show how this became a great way to come together for some family time. That gave me a great amount of happiness and hope.

Roberto: Parents have shown me how they can really embrace the changes we've had to make. They are really dedicated to keeping everyone safe. We have a long-standing relationship with our parents and, with that, comes a high level of respect. Knowing they care so much about us all makes me hopeful.

Michael Coiner is a volunteer with Washington County Kids, a Hillsboro-based nonprofit that promotes after-school and summer activity programs for children throughout the county. This column is a partial transcript of interviews he conducted with local educators.


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