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New City Kids GR becomes a daytime program to accommodate virtual learning

An after-school program changes their hours.
Credit: Leona Dunn
Isaac, a twin, in his second year of the program is learning bass guitar in his afternoon class. He learned about New City Kids through his older brother who used to work for the program.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — New City Kids GR has been in the area for seven years, but this fall they are opening their doors at 8 a.m. for the first time. 

On Sept. 14, the programs parking lot was full of families dropping off their children. First, the parents had to wait for their kids to be temperature checked before driving away. 

Daily temperature checks before entering is mandatory, along with mask wearing throughout the day. Parents had to attend a mandatory orientation before their kids were allowed into the new program. There, they were informed on how to get the proper sized mask for their children, according to after-school director Ellie Arreguin.

"The school day doesn't start until 9, it's 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., so we do feed them breakfast, but that's after we make sure its safe for them to come in. There is even a survey on the door for employee's," Arreguin said.

The children are put in pods of six to eight kids per classroom. The desks are spread out and the children cannot take off their mask anywhere in the building, with the exception of food times.  

United Way funds helped the program hire ten academic specialist to sit in every grade's classroom. The specialists are in charge of keeping the kids on track and offering extra academic help.

Credit: Leona Dunn
Kayla Parcks and Giyah Williams, say they like the walk they get to take every day to the park, as they eat at Stocking Elementary Schools playground during their lunch break.

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Students do get breaks in between their distant learning classes just to get away from the screen. Their classrooms are currently getting television monitors installed in each space to let the classes communicate door to door on a bigger screen. The staff use texting and walkie talkies to communicate and coordinate when whose group can go where.

"We came up with this new structure, where we were forced to create these classrooms. The classrooms had a combination of desks, learning materials and instruments. We had to be very creative with coming up on these different classrooms based on age, grade and their musical ability," said Musical Director Maurice Townsend. "Those are some of the challenges that we faced so far." 

The academic specialists get to leave after lunch at around 1 p.m. At that time, the kids are transferred to their teen life interns, with every classroom getting teen tutors and teen music teachers to kick off their afternoon. 

What makes New City Kids unique as an extracurricular program is the fact that they hire teenagers. They do it to give teens something productive to do that both requires them to practice leadership skills and puts money in there pocket.

The Grand Rapids location has around 44 teen interns. They had internship tryouts in the summer, where the teens were selected and put through a two-week immersion training session to prep for this new school year. 

Credit: Leona Dunn
The music coordinator sits down for a mentorship lunch session with Thailin Johnson and Michael Townsend who are both teenage piano teachers.

Maurice Townsend has been in the program for five years now. He told 13 ON YOUR SIDE that making the transfer from a student to a teacher was challenging but nice. 

"I got to wake up early, get here by 8:30 a.m., get my homework done and then get ready to teach right after, but the music development, like being the piano teacher and watching my students grow in their music class is my favorite part," Townsend said.

The program can hold up to 60 children and still has some available space for certain age groups. It costs parents a one-time payment of $25 to enroll  their child in the program and the rest of the cost is donated and sponsored. 

The team leadership had this encouraging message for the Grand Rapids Public School District and their sponsors:

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