“This Place Lightens Their Day:” The Richmond Neighborhood Center’s Richmond Branch Library Hub

By Argishti Petrosyan

My name is Argishti Petrosyan, Community Hub Program Manager for Richmond Neighborhood Center at the Richmond Branch Library. Prior to this role, I was supporting an OST Program at McCoppin Elementary school. Our leadership team also includes my peer Lee Hungle (Program Manager for Lafayette Elementary School) and Rosa Galera (Coordinator at Roosevelt).

The responsibilities of the leadership is to coordinate with partners, schools and faculty, and families to ensure that our staff have all of the time and resources necessary to provide intentional programming for our students.

We take care of the administrative work such as snack and attendance reporting, monthly testing or quarantine timeline (for staff who have had exposure or are feeling sick) monitoring, newsletters and updates, and any other funder needs that need to be addressed. Finally, we work to provide strategies for staff to continue to improve their practice.

Overall, it has been a pleasure watching the students build friendships at the Community Hub. Many of our students had been isolated from other kids outside of their families. A sign of success to us is having to remind students to be distant because they feel safe and not anxious about their interactions with other students.

Our Middle School Coordinator Rosa Galera has mentioned that one of our biggest challenges has been helping students navigate academic expectations that have not changed throughout the pandemic. In some cases, in spite of sickness (including COVID-related family concerns), students are held to the same expectations for attendance and school work. In order to support them, middle school staff have focused on working with students around their own self advocacy to teachers.

Rosa says that seeing students communicate and advocate for themselves in these situations has been the most significant success. One student described that he felt his teachers had given up on him because he was not engaged prior to coming to the hub. When he started attending classes, he still felt like he was being ignored. With staff support, he felt comfortable emailing his teacher to communicate that he was really trying and making an effort to turn in assignments, and that despite his camera being off, he was still present and the teacher could call on him.

Another 6th grade student emailed his teachers to communicate the challenges that he was having with his group during breakout sessions. The student asked to be moved to a different group, and since the teacher moved him, he has been much more engaged. This was the first time that the student had ever emailed a teacher to ask for support or a change.

10/5/20 open date; 12 staff; 28 youth enrolled; 1,648 meals served

A Day at the Hub

Our Hub serves 3 pods of students ranging from 2nd grade to 8th grade. While we operate in the Richmond District, our students can come from many different parts of the city. Each day staff come in and have a lot to do: set up the classroom and activities; greet students and check them in; prepare and provide food service; and check in as a team.

Once the day is started, staff can be really busy between supporting academics, offering activities during the many student breaks throughout the day (we have a pod that has over 8 different schedules in one group), supporting with lunch, providing enrichment, checking in with guardians during pick up, and sanitizing the room at the end of the day.

Supporting academics while social distancing is a real challenge, but we walk through the space and check on students. Thankfully we have had a great relationship with school day teachers and communicate by email or phone every day as changes happen. Every Monday morning we get the new schedules for the week. It is an everyday balance of working with students on missed assignments while also maintaining a really positive spirit in the room. There is a lot of focus on “getting kids caught up” or preventing learning loss, but we also know that students are coping with a lot, so we have to pace ourselves, maintain realistic expectations, and be balanced every day without overwhelming students.

When it comes to PE or specialized support for students, we have to get creative to make sure that we provide spaces for students to continue to have these supports.

Providing a Sense of Home

A lot of people focus on academics, but in the hub our young people are also improving socially. Many of our young people and their families are going through hard times right now, and the outside world has a lot of threats, but this place lightens their day, and this is reflected back in academic performance.

One of our Leaders, Alex Garduno, says that the wonderful thing about the hub is that students who you normally wouldn’t see interacting with each other have the chance to have broad engagement between ages, like 6th graders making friends with 8th graders. This has a real benefit for after the pandemic. Being able to have positive relationships when there is a grade difference can really help our young people navigate different relationships when they get to school and not just be relegated to feeling comfortable with students their age.

A significant part of our program is creating a space that is for them. This means that we allow students to steer activities and choose prizes to redeem cohort cash (which we award to recognize safe behavior, prosocial behavior, or whatever our goal is that week). We take time to get to know students, find out about their interests, and incorporate them into our breaks, free time, and enrichment activities.

And while a lot of our activities are driven by students (especially hands-on activities like art projects, elephant toothpaste, slime, etc.), it has also been really cool for staff to share in experiences with the students. For example, Alex noted that this past week some of our middle school students went through a jump rope, 4-square, and double dutch phase. These are the types of activities that staff used to do in middle school, and all of the staff really got into it. It reminded us of our childhood before social media and video games were as big as they are now. It was a cool bonding moment to have fun over a shared experience. Sometimes with the pressure of social media and expectations that young people grow up faster and mature at a younger age, we forget that being a kid is about having fun. It’s important that young people see us adults having fun with things that they might think are just for younger students.

We also try to create unique opportunities for students based on their age and developmental stages. For example, with our elementary school students we have weekly themes on Fridays for students to dress in different, sometimes silly outfits. For our 8th grade students it means creating a Teen Center that is separate from other middle school students where they can have more autonomy in what they do that afternoon.

Finally, we try to create a sense of community with the physical space. For example, one of our groups created a community tree with butcher paper and construction paper where it could hold kind words and affirmations. Each space and group has tried to ensure that their identity is reflected in the physical space that they create.

My favorite part of the hub is playing with the staff — board games and card games. If I were at home, I would just be bored. Being at the hub makes me feel like part of a community, like a second home. It’s like summer camp, except there’s school. The staff have really helped me study for exams, tests, homework, and projects.

Marco, 6th grader at Roosevelt Middle School

We see SFPL staff as part of the community; we share our program information, updates, etc. It feels like a team here at the hub. The library staff have been a great resource, and they have even provided my team with support and information on Hoopla, a digital library program. We were able to start up a small group, leveled reading program with high school students over zoom, where our staff and high school youth workforce program participants read and discuss materials.

Since the beginning of the hub, we have had coordination challenges with a city-funded third party custodial service. Thankfully, SFPL has provided high quality service to ensure that there were no gaps. They have been extremely helpful, and it is really great to have a partnership with custodial without there ever being a question of what can or can’t be cleaned and at what times.

Additionally, many community members utilize the public space in front of the library as their hub. It’s wonderful to see the community be socially distant in public spaces in a responsible way.

In general, I pause and smile whenever I hear from a parent that their child loves the Community Hub and does not want to get picked up from the program.

We have one student in particular who was experiencing a very difficult transition. The student had missed the first couple months of school because he had recently moved to the city and was not able to attend his classes. When he first arrived at the hub, he had a lot of negative self talk, often saying things like “I’m too dumb,” or “I will never learn this.” It was obvious to him that he had a lot of missing assignments and was placing the blame for not understanding what was going on in class on himself. Staff helped him understand that he was right where he needed to be and that none of this was his fault.

We focused on his mindset and not on the work itself, offering praise for his effort and reminding him that the most important thing was that he believed he could do it. He started coming to the hub exclaiming, “I am going to finish all of my missed assignments!” That was a small moment, but it represented a really big win for both the student and us.

I grew up in San Francisco, and it is not the city it once used to be. But other staff keep reminding us of the valuable resources that the city has to offer. SF offers a diversity of people and experiences that make this community rich. Outside of pandemic the city offers an ease of access to a variety of experiences.

We have been really appreciative of how responsive DCYF has been; they have provided us with the financial resources, partnership with SFPL, and PPE supplies that we need to do this work.

On our side of the city, we do need greater access to facilities to offer more spots for students. Access to school sites months ago would have made a tremendous difference in our capacity and impact on supporting students and their families.

District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, City Librarian Michael Lambert, and staff from the Richmond District YMCA Community Hub visit Richmond Neighborhood Center’s Richmond Branch Library Hub

Argishti, what song motivates you to continue to serve our communities as we struggle and grind through the pandemic?

Queen, “We Are The Champions”

To learn more about DCYF’s Community Hub Initiative, visit dcyf.org/care.

Making San Francisco a great place to grow up, DCYF has led the City's investments in children, youth, TAY and their families since 1991. www.dcyf.org

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