Plans have been under way for some time to improve the access to technology at Girls Inc. Centers. The COVID 19 pandemic heightened the importance of computer and internet access for the girls we serve and made this goal a priority.
We started with the basics to build the Smart Café by securing chrome books, docking stations, and WIFI. Both Centers were rewired with high speed internet through the generosity of BEI Networks. New Hampshire Charitable Foundation connected us with Bob Goldstein, a donor who generously supported the Smart Café concept and enlisted his friends through peer to peer fundraising to leverage support. BAE Systems and Dartmouth Hitchcock helped equip the Smart Café with additional chrome books and supplies. Ella Reape and Greater Bedford Womenade provided headphones and blue light glasses. Students at St. Anselm College donated backpacks and over two dozen donors sent school supplies via our Amazon Charity List. The result, through the support of many, was two fully functioning computer labs and learning centers.
The investment proved valuable as we moved into fall. With schools in our districts opting for remote learning amid the COVID 19 pandemic, we decided to open the centers all day, assisting families with virtual school, through our Smart Café. The Smart Café provides girls in grades 2 – 6 with a supervised remote learning experience at both our Nashua (also serves K – 1) and Manchester locations. Hours are from 7:30AM – 2:30 PM. Breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner are served. We provide individualized learning spaces that include a customized partition, backpack, school supplies, and access to a chrome book. Girls have the option of staying for socialization and Girls Inc programming from 2:30 – 5 PM.
Our goal is to make girls remote learning experience successful and enjoyable. While schools have made the transition to online learning platforms, many of the girls we serve do not have access to technology, are unfamiliar with the platforms their schools are using to communicate their daily lessons, and need additional support with assignments. Furthermore, many of our participants receive special education and mental health services regularly, transitioning into remote learning has disrupted a number of those services, as a result, parents are struggling to provide proper support and guidance. The Smart Café offsets some of the challenges due to virtual learning by providing a safe enriching childcare environment, healthy meals, academic support, social interaction, and mental health support.
The Smart Café gives girls access to the resources they need to gain skills in technology, fully participate in school, and engage in emerging technology trends. We are grateful to all partners and our staff for the time and effort involved in making this a successful endeavor.