OST Blog Series: Episode #4 | Jubilee Housing

OST Blog Series
February 25, 2021
Blog Post

By Audrey Walker, Director of Youth Services

Many in DC know Jubilee Housing for its innovative justice housing model. For 45 years we’ve helped connect low-income people to the city’s prosperity through high-quality, deeply affordable homes in thriving neighborhoods. A closer look at our approach shows that housing is just the tip of the iceberg. The families we serve receive wraparound supportive services such as financial empowerment and eviction prevention. Some of the services that families value most are academic support and afterschool activities  — including safe in-person programming —provided through Jubilee Housing’s Youth Services. These resources have become a lifeline for parents and youth during COVID-19, as the community adjusted to virtual learning and the myriad challenges that the pandemic brought on.

Across all three of our centers, Early Start (K-3rd grade), Activity Zone (4th-7th grade) and the Teen Center (7th-12th grade), our goals are to improve outcomes in academics, health and wellness, and socioemotional growth as well as promote a commitment to community service, a sense of belonging, and strengthen community,. Between April and July 2020, our in-person afterschool and summer camp programs shifted to a virtual program focusing on supporting participants’ social and emotional wellbeing, STEAM programming, yoga, and literacy development. Youth at all three centers also receive developmentally appropriate financial literacy classes that teach them how to use and manage money.

In October 2020, we adapted the traditional afterschool program to a day program model, where students receive in-person support during the school day on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Not only do students receive academic support in small cohorts — with a 8:2 student-to-teacher ratio — but they also get the social interaction with their peers that many children have lost due to the pandemic. Students enrolled in the in-person program receive access to a computer, Internet, headphones, supervision, and support with virtual learning from Youth Services staff. We also provide school materials, daily snacks and lunch, individual tutoring, and outdoor playtime. Staff make contact with every participant’s teacher during the school year in order to learn how to best support and reinforce what students are learning. Thorough health and safety protocols at the youth centers have kept the COVID case count at zero. Frequent and deep cleaning, regular temperature checks, and strict face mask and visor policies are just some of the measures we take on a daily basis to keep children, families, and staff safe.

Jubilee Housing serves many immigrant families, often with parents and children who are English language learners. This can make virtual school at home even more challenging. Parents have shared that they are grateful for the opportunity for their children to work with bilingual staff members to get help with homework and tutoring. One parent shared the following feedback (translated from Spanish).

“At the beginning of the year, my daughter was really shy, but then she started trusting the staff, and now she loves to go to Early Start. And even now that we’re doing Zoom, even if she’s late, she wants to join the call every day.”

Jubilee also offers a robust tutoring program to reinforce learning that happens during the traditional school day. This gives students an opportunity to delve into topics or assignments where they need some extra help. Each youth is assigned a volunteer tutor from either American University or our community. Most students meet with their tutor virtually twice a week. The extra academic support has shown promising results, according to available data. Of the 22 students with valid course grade data, about three-quarters of regularly attending JYS participants increased their course grades in math and English language arts or maintained the highest grade from the first to the third term.

We also know how important it is for kids to be kids, no matter how unusual the circumstances of the past year have been. Some of the students’ favorite activities are those offered through a partnership with Blue Studios, which provides hands-on, kid-friendly STEM activities virtually. Our youth participants have done activities such as creating cells with Play-Doh, building dioramas, and learning botany by growing wheat grass plants using soil and hydroponics. A partnership with Sidwell Friends brings activities like coding, origami, and pottery to students. For all of these activities, JYS provides all necessary materials for students to pick up and take home. Part of how we keep students engaged in afterschool activities is allowing them to have a voice in choosing them. Students notice this and appreciate it. One student said, “I really appreciate being a part of making decisions and making my own fun times.”

A lot has happened in the past year, from the pandemic to the police killing of George Floyd and the uprisings that followed, to the anxiety around the election. All of this can affect students’ emotional health. We have continued to use the Second Step social and emotional curriculum, which we used even before COVID, to incorporate a variety of strategies into our programs, including breathing exercises. We are intentional about choosing books for reading time that delve into feelings that children can relate to. For older students, we partner with PBS to provide democracy and civic engagement learning opportunities, which helps them apply an educational lens to current events.

The Youth Services program’s whole-family approach rose to the challenge when COVID-19 hit, providing three pickup meals each weekday in partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank, calling each family to find out what resources they needed, and providing referrals when needed. We’ve also been able to offer family workshops focused on educating families about virtual teaching, discussing challenges, and equipping families with strategies that will support more effective virtual learning. In December and January, we hosted My School DC events to help families learn more about school choice in the District and the different options available for their children.

As the pandemic continues, Jubilee Youth Services will remain in our hybrid model, offering a combination of in-person and virtual afterschool and tutoring programs. We continue to plan for summer and look forward to seeing more of our students in person as soon as it is safe and healthy to do so. The pandemic has tested all of us, but it has also demonstrated the incredible resilience of our program staff and our students and families. We are proud to be part of the District’s diverse and dedicated OST network and a member of the DC OST Coalition. We look forward to continuing to work together with local education agencies and leaders to ensure students emerge from this challenging period happy, healthy, and fully prepared to reach their potential.