School was in session one day last week – although, like anywhere kids are learning these days, this one looked a little different.
The building in Frederick's Lucas Village neighborhood is serving as a learning hub for middle and high school students, one of six such sites around the city that provides them with a space for conducting virtual learning.
Desks are situated around the room, spread out at an appropriate social distance, where seven boys wearing headphones worked on their various lessons. Five girls worked in several rooms upstairs.
Elementary students are set up in a community center nearby.
On the wall, a marker board holds the middle and elementary virtual learning schedules for Frederick County Public Schools.
They've been providing spaces since virtual learning started last year, as a way for students to stay connected and plugged in, said Brandon Chapman, a youth services coordinator with the Housing Authority of the city of Frederick, which runs the program.
It's more like a college atmosphere than a high school one, he said, with breaks between classes rather than a traditional continuous school day.
Chapman and the other workers spend their time checking in with different kids to see how things are going and to make sure they're completing their assignments, as well as dealing with the inevitable technical issues that arise with virtual learning.
“The flexibility is pretty cool, as long as everything works,” Chapman said.
The breaks provide a chance for the kids to get outside and do some activities away from their screens.
They play kickball on the dead-end street once or twice a week, or sometimes go to a nearby park until it's time for classes to resume.
A personal trainer also occasionally comes by to work with the students on some exercises.
While they enjoy the freedom between classes, the students also like the structure of having somewhere they have to be at a certain time, said Krisma Jackson, another of the housing authority's youth services coordinators.
“Kids love structure, even if they may not say so,” she said.
In their own homes, the internet service might be spotty, and their parents might be at work, or may work nights and sleep during the day, said Ann Ryan, director of family services for the authority.
The centers provide a hub where the students can connect with their classes, get a snack, and the staff can follow up with them to make sure things are going smoothly, she said.
The program is funded through contributions from a variety of organizations, as well as with federal money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Kevin Lollar, the housing authority's executive director.
Getting everything up and running smoothly for virtual learning has been an adventure. The program will continue to morph and evolve as distance learning does, Chapman said.
But they'll continue to provide a place of consistency and support for kids who may need it in uncertain times.
As he stood outside a room where first- and second-graders hunched over their Chromebooks, Lollar referred to the old aphorism that it takes a village to raise a child.
“We're the village,” he said.