'Allowed the students to thrive and not just survive': MoCA Westport offers support with new program

WESTPORT — Seeing the challenges students and their families faced at the onset of the pandemic has prompted MoCA Westport to start a support program to help meet students’ needs.

“We’re in a major pandemic and our entire community had a need for educational support because we were looking at elementary students who were thrust into a remote learning situation as of March,” said Anne Greenberg, director of education at MoCA Westport.

The sudden shift caused some students to lose months of education, she said. When the district rolled out its hybrid model at the start of this school year, the organization saw an opportunity to support students and their families in a difficult time and launched its POD Learning Support Program.

“We really wanted to dedicate our classroom space — and really our entire museum building — to supporting the elementary school students during the time they were not in school, where we could have certified academic teachers really teaching what they were learning and also supplementing what they were learning,” Greenberg said.

Within the learning program, children from kindergarten to fifth grade are grouped into a consistent “pod” with other students from their grade. Students will get a variety of things, including academic support and homework assistance.

The program supports each elementary cohort of students while they are not in-person learning at school. Greenberg said often parents who may be working from home themselves had to provide educational support while the students were not in school.

“We really wanted to help the Westport school district bolster their efforts with the hybrid program — and we had the facility to do it,” Greenberg said.

Each pod has two teachers for up to six students, allowing for an intimate teaching setting. Greenberg said this ratio gives teachers the ability to work with a child more closely, which can further help to address students’ needs.

More Information

Families can apply for the program by visiting mocawestport.org/the-academy/.

MoCa hired additional teachers to help meet the program’s needs.

“You really have a lot more flexibility as a teacher to drill down and really work with children in an intimate setting so that they feel seen, they feel heard, and you can spend a lot of time addressing components of education that might have been missed in a larger group setting,” she said.

The program runs in the morning from 9 to 11:45 a.m., and then another cohort of students come in from 1 to 3:45 p.m. Safety is a continued priority with social distancing measures employed, as well as mask wearing. Students’ temperatures are also checked upon arrival, Greenberg said.

“We also have certified art instructors teaching into our exhibition, and assisting with the ratio of kids so that they would pretty much be getting very small group of tutoring academically,” she said.

Students will be able to experience a hands-on approach to arts education using the organization’s fall 2020 exhibition called ‘World Peace.’ The multi-media exhibit features local and world-renowned artists.

“We are able to talk about what’s going on in the world in real time and how the art relates back to their understanding of what is going on,” Greenberg said. “It’s extremely relevant for them.”

The program runs parallel with the school district’s school year. On Jan. 22 the kids involved in the program’s morning pods or afternoon pods will switch, just like the elementary cohorts’ morning and afternoon sessions. On Jan. 25 the program will be offered on two-week increments for parents who may want to try the program out.

It costs $300 per child for two days a week and $400 per child for three days per week. Scholarships are available for those in need, according to MoCA’s website.

“We’re trying to be as nimble and flexible as possible to make sure we don’t create a situation that doesn’t inconvenience the parents any further,” Greenberg said.

She said the program currently runs eight pods and students are already showing the benefits of continuous supplemental support. It has also helped working families who may have had to get a tutor on a daily basis for their children, she said.

“More importantly what we’ve heard the most is that because we have such a small ratio the kids are getting more support here than they had suspected,” Greenberg said, adding the art component has also been praised.

The supplemental help has also created a synergy between what students are being taught in the schools and the learning program, she said.

“It wound up being a synergy that allowed the students to thrive and not just survive in this hybrid program,” Greenberg said. “But we’re proud of it and we really do think our kids that are here are truly getting a much more interesting year than they would have if it had just been regular public school.”

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com