With local schools pivoting between totally remote and hybrid learning for nearly a year now, many local students have found themselves without a place to go all day to do their schoolwork. Kingston’s Center for Creative Education (CCE) has assisted local students in a number of ways across the area since the beginning of the pandemic.
One way it’s doing this is by offering access to computers with high-speed internet, as well as food and tutors, at the community space in Energy Square, the new RUPCO housing development on Cedar Street. CCE has been offering this for a while, but the program recently got a shot in the arm thanks to funding through the New York State Association for Affordable Housing’s Community Classrooms Program, which itself is funded by Wells Fargo funded. It was developed to provide a daytime program offering a “safe social emotional learning environment.” The recent funding from the New York State Association for Affordable Housing allowed it to continue its mission.
“RUPCO uses affordable housing and CCE uses arts and education, social emotional learning and different types of learning for young people,” said Bryant “Drew” Andrews, executive director at CCE. “CCE developed Project Access which is a daytime program that provides a learning environment to our youth.”
The funding pays for the costs to run the program at each site, which was estimated at $10,000 for 12 weeks and includes a minimum $15 hourly salary for a 40-hour base work week and $1,000 for cleaning costs and operational or administrative expenditures.
Right now, CCE’s program serves around 70 students between kindergarten and high school. There is a waiting list of approximately 25 students. CCE works in conjunction with the Kingston City School District to focus on students who have Individualized Education Plans or 504 plans.
“We follow CDC guidelines so all interactions are really safe,” said Andrews.
Enrollment is open to anyone in the Kingston City School District and priority is given to those who need additional help.
“We had to do something,” said Andrews. “We hear that our kids are feeling really anxious and scared. Some of them are feeling angry about what’s happening. There is no way a lot of these kids could learn from home.”
Andrews said there have been times where a 10-year-old had to be watching their two-year-old sibling all day while their parents are at work.
“If we didn’t have something like this, young people wouldn’t have the opportunity to access their education and safe social interactions,” he said. “We do our best, especially with marginalized communities to be there and show up. Our kids aren’t eating, sometimes they’re living from home to home. It’s a real mess out there.”
CCE’s in-person Project Access has worked with other community organizations that are based around providing programs for youth, like the Boys & Girls Club, Family of Woodstock and the Kingston Rondout Center.
“We decided we wanted to try and take as many kids as we can and worked on creating a safe space within our facilities,” said Andrews.
CCE was able to move into Energy Square, a mixed-use housing and community center, in September and went right to work.
Most students have laptops provided by the school district. In addition, the program is able to provide headphones, internet connection, and supplementary laptops or computers. Everything is sanitized multiple times a day.
“When we transitioned in March to virtual learning we realized how many of the families didn’t have WiFi to connect with anyone,” said Emma Hambright, Project Access supervisor. “That made it so important to launch this program and make it accessible to the kids.”
How CCE continued its programming last spring and summer
“We had been using Zoom for three years prior with different programs to access people who couldn’t leave the house – some of them were special needs, seniors,” said Andrews. “We were using this platform for a long time. It was immediate that we pivoted.”
Within a week of closing its doors, CCE was able to get staff and youth situated with online learning. Andrews said that by April it found that students and parents were feeling anxious and that people were disconnected mentally.
“We thought how we can further connect using the arts to see how our children and adults were feeling,” said Andrews.
CCE decided to gather different “teaching artists” to venture to different parts of the community during the summer to conduct different events in the streets that was called a “porch party.” It allowed people to come outside and dance, listen to music, read poetry and more – all in a safe, socially distant manner.
“It brought joy, love and hope to the community,” said Andrews. “It was a great thing.”
In May, when Mayor Steve Noble decided to cancel all summer recreation programs, CCE started a summer enrichment program, with two three-week sessions at the Andy Murphy Midtown Neighborhood Center, which had enough space to gather safely.
“The parents were able to go back to work because we had the kids for the full day,” said Andrews.
If you are interested in learning more or donating to CCE and Project Access, visit cce4me.org.