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Now that schools are open or reopening, parents, educators and students are breathing a collective sigh of relief. Finally, we can get back to normal — albeit a modified version, with social distancing, masks and other measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

But in our haste to get back to our lives, let’s not lose the inadvertent good things that happened because of the pandemic.

Almost every day I see an article or blog post about how many U.S. office workers are not going to return to business as usual post-pandemic. While some folks are anxious to get back to their desks, others are determined to hang on to some of the benefits of working from home, such as saving time and money on commuting, more flexible schedules and extra time with loved ones. Many employers are reviewing their policies and their physical workplaces to figure out what pandemic changes are keepers.

That hasn’t been the case when it comes to schools. We know that learning and kids suffered when schools went remote. Of course part of the problem was that many students, especially in underserved and underfunded communities like Detroit, didn’t have access to the tools and resources they needed to learn from home. Without computers and internet access, many students were not able to begin distance learning until school officials could get them both hardware and connected online. But even once students were able to log into virtual classrooms, many found it difficult to learn and they missed being in school with their classmates. As a result, we’re not hearing a lot of calls to continue distance learning.

While that’s understandable, it’s also shortsighted because some students actually enjoyed benefits from distance learning. As someone who provides after-school and “out-of-school” programs for students, the pandemic most definitely brought things to a halt, at first. My organization, Class Act Detroit, provides music, dance, computer, tutoring, camp and other programs to Detroit students. When everything went remote, we had to scramble to figure out how to continue to give students the support they needed — at a time when they needed more than ever.

Every summer, we provide students with programs to help them avoid the “summer slide” — the tendency for students to lose some of the skills proficiency and learning from the past school year. When you think about how the last school year ended, the summer slide was an even bigger threat last summer. Underserved communities are at a heightened risk of summer slide, so our programs here in Detroit are especially important. 

Interestingly, it was with the help of virtual volunteers from Catchafire — an organization that connects professionally skilled volunteers from around the world with nonprofits — that we were able to adapt our programs. We’ve worked with volunteers in Brazil and Egypt to help us deliver programs to students in Detroit. I guess it makes sense that people who volunteer virtually, not in person, would do a good job helping us figure out how to do our work online. Well, together we not only figured it out, we realized that our virtual programs expanded access to more students.

We were able to provide online tutoring, which was especially important to some students who found it hard to get the instruction they needed in a virtual classroom. Meeting one-on-one with a tutor helped fill the gap.

We also were able to continue to provide many of our enrichment programs in music, dance and other creative arts — which help students gain insight into potential career pathways and gain confidence. These out-of-school programs help our young people see the possibilities available to them.

Our virtual volunteers from across the country and around the world helped us open up our programs to kids who normally wouldn’t be able to physically reach us. Now that we’ve expanded our reach, an unexpected silver lining in the COVID cloud that’s been hanging over us, we’re determined to continue to support more students in Detroit and beyond.


Rashard Dobbins is the CEO and Co-Founder of Class Act Detroit.