Sebastopol Center for the Arts Opens Its Doors for Distanced Learning

Sonoma County schools continue to operate online and over Zoom due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and some students are facing more challenges than others as they adjust to online education.

In West Sonoma County, the Sebastopol Center for the Arts is launching a new Supervised Distance Learning program aimed to help those students and families struggling to learn in isolation.

“Back in July, we were running virtual classes and on-site arts camps,” says Dana Swint, Education Manager at Sebastopol Center for the Arts. “The feedback I was getting from parents who were anticipating another upcoming semester or beyond of distance learning was, ‘How do we support our children and make sure they have success learning from home?’”

The families that Swint heard from were households where either a single parent or both parents were working full-time in essential jobs, meaning they had to decide between working or staying at home to supervise their children’s virtual learning. Now, those parents have another option.

Next week, center is opening it’s facility to provide a safe and supportive environment for more than 40 elementary school children who will work on their daily virtual classes and learning exercises while getting to experience social connection and daily afternoon arts enrichment activities. The Supervised Distance Learning program begins on Nov. 2, and runs Mondays through Fridays, 7:30am–5:30pm, until Dec. 18. Pre-registration is required, and the program is available at a sliding scale cost.

The center’s 17,000-square-foot building allows for safe 6-foot social distancing, in designated spaces for groups of 12 students. Designated Distance Learning Assistants who are trained to offer academic and technical support and classwork assistance will supervise the students. In between their classes, students will have access to outdoor patios for lunch, play and exercise, and the center will also take advantage of having Ives Park across the street. The program will employ all Covid-19 safety procedures such as daily temperature readings and strict sanitation practices.

“We started by reaching out to the county childcare licensing program and applied for an exception to offer programming during the school day,” Swint says. “In visualizing how we could build an enriching program, we decided we’re an arts center and that’s what we have to offer, so we will have teaching artists coming on to teach dance, ceramics, music, painting and drawing in the afternoon.”

For the Supervised Distance Learning Program, the Sebastopol Center for the Arts is working closely with Sebastopol Union Elementary School District, though the program is open to any elementary-age schoolchildren in the county.

“Although our teachers at Sebastopol Union are doing a phenomenal job, there is no replacement for in-person education and socialization,” says Linda Irving, Superintendent of Sebastopol Union Elementary School District. “It’s a wonderful opportunity that mixes the digital learning environment provided by our teachers and local artists.”

Irving notes that many families and students in her district are dealing with emotional fallout caused by the pandemic, the economy, and other factors that make learning at home in isolation even more difficult.

“Sebastopol Union has a higher population than our surrounding districts of students that qualify for free or reduced lunch, and that means they’re living in the poverty zone,” Irving says. “There are struggles going on and it’s taking a toll.”

Irving hopes to re-open schools for in-person instruction on January 19, “depending on all sorts of factors,” meaning this new program at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts will get families to the winter break.

“I love that they are reaching and stretching themselves to create this program,” Irving says of the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. “This is a serious commitment in partnership with Sebastopol Union and it will enhance the experience for the students.”

For more information and to register for the Supervised Distance Learning Program, visit SebArts.org.

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