An update has been made to this article.
WINCHESTER — Due to the coronavirus pandemic, students in Winchester Public Schools can only attend in-person classes two days a week.
As a result, there are concerns they may fall behind in critical learning and socialization skills, said Heather Forman, executive director of The Kids Club of the Northern Shenandoah Valley.
So Forman and a group of local nonprofit leaders have joined together to combat the problem through an initiative called Winchester Learning Labs. The program seeks to support the city’s most vulnerable students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
The J2W Foundation, a non-profit based in Fairfax, helped lead and organize the Winchester Learning Labs program.
Winchester Learning Labs currently has four sites in the city that provide a safe space for students to have extra academic and social support on the weekdays when they are not attending in-person classes.
Schools have long provided resources and support for vulnerable students, said Tina Stevens-Culbreath, executive director and co-founder of the I’m Just Me Movement, and a partner with the Learning Labs. Now it’s up to the community to step up and address these gaps.
“A lot was exposed when COVID-19 happened,” Stevens-Culbreath said. “When kids are not in school, they have these gaps that have always existed.”
Winchester Learning Labs has sites at The Kids Club at 2400 Roosevelt Boulevard, HIVE/Winchester Parks and Recreation at 1001 East Cork Street, Our Place by Selah Theatre Project/I’m Just Me Movement/Arte Libre at 811 South Loudoun St. and the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum at 19 W. Cork St.
The locations have the capacity to support a total of 450 students.
There is a fee for students to participate, but organizers are exploring the creation of scholarships.
The Kids Club offers its space at a rate of $50 for three days per week or $65 for five days from 7:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Breakfast, lunch and a snack are provided.
HIVE/Winchester Parks and Recreation offers its space from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at a rate of $60 per week with a $15 registration fee.
Our Place, I’m Just Me and Arte Libre offers its space for $65 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and $45 for after- school only from 3 to 7 p.m. Meals and snacks are provided.
The Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum is providing space on Thursdays or Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Oct. 22 through Nov. 20 costing $250 total for a five-week session.
Braddock Street United Methodist Church Pastor Kirk Nave, who is assisting with the initiative, mentioned a parent who recently commented at a Winchester School Board meeting about how childcare on her children’s days home from school costs more than her monthly mortgage. Nave said he is exploring ways to provide volunteers in-person or virtually to help students.
In a survey sent to WPS families gauging the interest in the Winchester Learning Labs program, 90% of 260 respondents said they would need such a program to be free.
“Every family middle class and below is really struggling right now to just keep up with virtual learning,” Nave said. “Money is going to be an issue. Each of these nonprofits need a fee to help cover the expenses of what they’re offering to these children, and sadly many of the families can’t afford that fee.”
Fees charged for the programs do not cover all the costs involved to make them happen, said Andy Gail, executive director of Literacy Volunteers Winchester Area, which is another partner of Winchester Learning Labs.
He noted that the pandemic has many nonprofits struggling financially.
“We’re doing this because we care,” Gail said. “We want the community to come out of this stronger, better.”
Anyone interested in getting involved with Winchester Learning Labs should contact:
The Kids Club at 540-723-6665 or thekidsclubs.org
HIVE/Winchester Parks and Recreation at 540-662-4946 or winchesterva.gov/parks
Our Place/I’m Just Me/Arte Libre at 540-686-5185 or selahtheatreproject.org