Jody Deaderick said it’s been difficult adjusting to the demands of distance learning this year.
“I’m really thankful for this,” said Deaderick, a Camptonville resident, after dropping off her granddaughter Wednesday at the Distance Learning Center and Youth Hub on its first day.
Ella Lock, a ninth grader at Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning, has done her best to attend frequent Zoom calls for school while using the family’s sometimes unreliable satellite internet and monitoring the periodic data limit.
Deaderick said she and her granddaughter had previously gone to a community center parking lot so Ella could attend school Zoom calls, connecting to the building’s Wi-Fi, which offered a strong enough signal to connect to an improvised work station in their vehicle.
The new Distance Learning Center, operated by nonprofit Bright Futures for Youth at the Nevada County Fairgrounds’ Main Street Service Center, will provide Nevada County students a more consistent place to work and access high-speed internet as most continue to attend school in a fully distanced or hybrid instructional model.
The space holds over 30 work stations indoors, distanced according to COVID-19 guidance, as well as outdoor seating and an open area for students. Those in fourth grade or older may be dropped off, while parents or guardians are asked to stay with younger students.
Students are asked to bring their own or school-provided devices, whether laptops or tablets, and headphones.
“Our team has done a great job of getting everything ready, so now it’s just about waiting and seeing how word of mouth gets out to the kids,” said Bright Futures for Youth Executive Director Jennifer Singer.
The center’s opening, originally set for Monday, was delayed for two days due to PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shut-off. It will also be closed Monday through Wednesday next week for the election, with activities resuming next Thursday, Nov. 5, after the space has been cleaned and restored to its learning center configuration.
“We expect it to grow over time, and then once we can get a more consistent schedule, we’ll be excited about that,” said Singer.
Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay described the center as “a great example of multiple Nevada County agencies working together for the benefit of our students and community” in an email Monday, adding that a secondary benefit to this hub for schoolwork is providing meals to students through the Grass Valley School District’s central kitchen.
When students arrive, they will go through a check-in process, primarily facilitated by Brian Peterson, a Nevada County probation group supervisor assigned to the center, and site coordinator Cori Ove.
The process, Ove explained, involves the basic COVID-19 screening widely implemented by schools — asking about any symptoms, potential exposure, or illness in family members — as well as establishing a folder for each student to keep record of their visits, and which work station they use while at the center.
Ove said this information will be helpful if the center ever needs to conduct contact tracing regarding a case of COVID-19.
Cheryl Rubin, director of development and communications for The Friendship Club, a program under Bright Futures for Youth, wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon that a total of three students visited the center on its first day.
“It’s going pretty well — we knew it was probably going to be a little slow, especially now with the power outages and everything, and I think that it’s OK … because this is new for all of us,” said Ove, who began working for Bright Futures for Youth in August.
“But we’re ready to roll, for everyone to come,” she said.
Other than its permanent staff, supervision will be aided by the nonprofit’s volunteers, of which Singer said around five are in the screening process — a background check and fingerprinting, standard to the organization’s volunteers — to begin at the center.
Cliff Brown, a Bright Futures for Youth board member, volunteered at the center during its first morning open. On what motivated him to help out, he said, “I know this has been a challenging time for students. My daughter is doing distance learning as well, so a chance to give the students more support and a place that they can physically study and have good internet access, I’m just happy to support that.”
Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union.
Photos by Elias Funez.