Community partnerships adapt to COVID-19 restrictions


Photo courtesy of Brandon Block

Rohan Prasad (’18) plays with a child at St. Johns Wood Adventure Playground in March 2018. This spring, the same community partnership resumed in person.

Sophia Bassi, Staff Writer

Over the past year, COVID-19 restrictions caused a number of changes within the community partnership program.

Director of Community Action Brandon Block said, during a normal year, there are both play-based and academic-based organizations that partner with the High School. Some of these organizations include the St. Johns Wood Adventure Playground, Caris Camden, Rugby Portobello Trust and the Tresham Center.

According to Block, most of these programs have been suspended for the 2020-21 school year, and as a result, student participation has decreased. However, he said several programs have adapted to COVID-19 restrictions to continue operating.

One such program is Rugby Portobello Trust, which Block said organized an online tutoring program in which High School participants teach small groups of students remotely over Microsoft Teams. Block said Rugby Portobello Trust was the only program to move online and that the online format came with advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that moving online has allowed for deeper connections to be built.

“It’s allowed for ASL students to work week after week with the same group of students in a way that would not have been possible in the more crowded space of Rugby Portobello,” he said. “The virtual space actually has created more room for connection.”

In contrast, Tarika Roy (’21), who has volunteered for Rugby Portobello for the last three years, said it has been more challenging to make connections with others online. In person, Roy said she could interact with many students, but now the group she works with is more limited.

“You lose all the little interactions you have,” she said. “Just saying ‘hi’ to someone that you tutored last time whereas this time you’re assigned to three people and you are just on a call with them.”

Like Block, Roy also said the online aspect of the program has come with advantages and disadvantages. She said there have been technology issues, but technology has mostly been helpful for teaching by allowing her to share online videos.

In general, Roy said due to limited communication with others, the kids at Rugby Portobello particularly enjoyed participating in tutoring during lockdown.

“The kids were more happy to be there because they didn’t get that interaction,” she said. “That collaborative aspect was a lot more needed during the lockdown.”

The virtual space actually has created more room for connection.

— Brandon Block

Since outdoor programs were recently allowed to restart due to relaxed restrictions, Block said the St. John’s Wood Adventure Playground partnership has been taking place since the week of April 26. In this community partnership, students play with local kids.

Joshua Berner (’23) said this is his second year participating at the Adventure Playground. Berner said the partnership has changed with COVID-19 restrictions as they are unable to play with the children indoors, limiting their range of activities.

“We are no longer able to go inside with the children,” he said. “My first year, we were able to help them with their homework, play indoor games, and we had more access to arts and crafts-based activities.”

However, Berner said the partnership is still beneficial for the kids involved.

“There is a large positive impact on the community as the kids have a lot of fun each time we visit,” he said.

In addition, Community Service Day took place May 23, following its suspension in the fall. Block said the event had to take place outdoors, but since much of the work happens outdoors anyway, this restriction was not problematic.

Block said whether partnerships can take place indoors next year depends on government and school guidance. Nevertheless, Block said it is crucial to be ready to adapt to any circumstances.

“Hopefully, we’ll all be close to normal again, but really we just have to respond to the situation that presents itself and be flexible,” he said. “All of the teachers involved in the partnerships have been really flexible this year, and all the students have been really understanding that this is an ongoing process.”