Following school shutdowns, thousands of students from all over the city, including Brooklyn, are engaged with remote learning and tutoring provided to them by Washington Heights non-profit organization Community League of the Heights (CLOTH).
CLOTH, which was founded in 1952, is a multi-service, community development organization dedicated to supporting and empowering economically disadvantaged residents.
More than 700 students daily from Brooklyn, Washington Heights and the Bronx are currently receiving remote learning and tutoring at the school
CLOTH Executive Director Yvonne Stennett, who started working at the organization more than 40 years ago as a youth advisory counselor, currently leads the organization. She is currently managing remote learning and a food pantry operation feeding thousands of families and seniors weekly.
“CLOTH began in 1952 and it was the results of parents in the neighborhood at that time getting together to figure out ways that they can be more helpful for their children,” she explained. “The agency started with parents who just voluntarily for the first 14 years of the rise of the organization fundraised and conducted programs, and out of that we have grown into a multi-service organization providing affordable housing, afterschool programs, food pantries, merchant organizing, workforce development and just a whole host of services that support community development.”
In 2006, CLOTH opened up a community health academy that was Stennett’s brainchild. It turned into a school for grades 6-12. In 2013, they moved into their current building in Washington Heights.
“We have 750 students in the school,” Stennett said. “It was considered a community learning school before the city really understood how they should function.”
She also described the struggles that COVID-19 has brought to their students and how they are managing to continue learning.
“We have gone into distant learning like the rest of the school system,” she explained. “However some of the things we are seeing as a result of distant learning is the academic gap being created with our students. Not being in the classroom and not getting the attention and instruction they need and also not being able to socialize with their classmates or ask questions how they would normally do has created a gap with young people.”
One of the solutions has been for CLOTH to turn all of their afterschool program staff into mentors and tutors, which allows them to provide one-on-one assistance to students.
“We are trying to help them with instructions and figure out how to get all those assignments they’ve been given daily and how to create time management and the skills that will allow them to assess all of that information they are getting and internalize it and understand it,” Stennett said, adding she is happy to have Brooklyn students at CLOTH. “We are all the way in Washington Heights but we do have students that come from Brooklyn and that’s such an amazing thing. Just to think they would commute all the way from Brooklyn is a testimony to what’s happening in the school. We are pretty proud of that.”
Stennett also gave credit to the faculty.
“Our teachers are performing magnificently and are going above and beyond,” she said. “It’s not just the school hours. They are doing individual work with the students and they are figuring out ways to keep them engaged academically as well as keep the clubs alive so that the students will still be able to feel good about themselves. They’re a good group of human beings going through stuff but are putting students first.”
As hard as CLOTH and its teachers are trying, distant learning has been difficult on the students.
“They are trying their hardest, but they are struggling,” she said. “From what I’m hearing, many of them are stressed out. It’s not just the fact that the academics are hard to grapple with but being unable to have the recreational and creative piece is very difficult too. Many of our students are from low-income communities of color so there are many struggling with issues dealing with moms that work and single heads of households, not getting the support they need for their academics, then looking at their parents to help them.”