When a pandemic hits and disrupts our lives — most notably entertainment and school — that’s the time to get really creative.
Lincoln Park’s Greenhouse Theater Center has found a way to utilize its five high-capacity seating theaters as Remote Learning Centers for children who attend Chicago Public Schools and are learning online due to the coronavirus epidemic.
“Parents came to us looking for a facility that would be a safe place for their children to learn. We knew we wouldn’t be putting on any plays in our theaters for several months, and we recognized our space as an amazing setup for remote learning,” says Bill Spatz, president of Greenhouse Theater Center and spokesperson for Remote Learning Centers.
This fall, Remote Learning Centers is not-for-profit and will be home to kids in third through eighth grade. Read on to learn why this might be a creative solution for your own family’s need for a safe, convenient space for remote learning this year.
It’s a safe environment with plenty of room
Remote Learning Centers offers plenty of space. Within five separate theaters that typically seat 44 to 200 patrons for regular theatrical productions, desks will be placed a minimum of six feet apart on the “stage” floor. Each theater has a separate heating and cooling system with no crossover of shared air.
“Because we are a high-capacity theater, we must have great airflow and incorporate more outside air than the typical ventilation system,” Spatz says. “We have also installed MERV-13 air filters, as recommended by the CDC, which filters out 99.9% of the virus.”
Each of the two floors has a separate entrance and two theaters have their own outside entrances. Four sets of men’s and women’s bathrooms provide plenty of room for kids and adults, too. Three pods have their own attached bathrooms and two of the pods will share the largest bathroom.
“What is key here is that at no time will any student from one pod be in contact with a student from another pod, which means no cross-contamination,” Spatz says.
Students will be required to wear masks at all times other than when they are seated at their desks. Teachers also will wear masks.
It’s teacher-supported education in a comfortable environment
Students will be working on laptop computers supplied by RLC using the Chicago Public Schools curriculum or other online teaching software. They will also have an instructor to turn to for support. “Because they are here for eight hours, there will be plenty of time during and after classes end when kids can get special attention when needed,” Spatz says.
Working individually doesn’t mean working alone at Remote Learning Centers. Each student will also engage with their instructor to review material or work on remedial or accelerated learning, as needed by the student. Instructors will provide a sounding board for students who wish to talk about the challenges or highlights of their experiences.
Students will be assigned to an individual, adjustable-height desk and theater lighting will be ample to create a welcoming environment conducive to learning. “Because we are a theater and the spaces are large, each child will have their own cushioned chair where they can sit, their own space to get up and move around, lay down, or scrunch up. They will never be stuck at their desks for six to eight hours,” Spatz says.
Because balance and physical exercise are important for health and learning, students will have the chance to get outside at nearby Oz Park, where they can enjoy some fresh air, play games like kickball and just run around.
Kids are encouraged to try something new
Since Remote Learning Centers are in a theater, it makes sense that students will have the chance for some theatrical expression during their day.
“Prior to COVID-19, we had announced the formation of Young People’s Theater (YPT), a nonprofit that was formed to expose kids to live theater. We had planned to put on professional productions for audiences of children, and also have children produce their own plays,” Spatz says. “Then covid struck and now we’re waiting to put YPT into action and are very much encouraged by the concept of making Greenhouse a place for kids attending Remote Learning Centers to act and see acting.”
During the semester, students in each of the five RLC pods will put on a play, professionally staged and lit, right in the theater. At the end of each day, there will be readings and rehearsals, and ultimately the kids will perform the play for parents and friends. “To the degree we can stage it, we will. Or the students will act in place at their desks,” Spatz says.
RLC has created a simple way for space to be used creatively by students who will be learning remotely and need a safe place to be during their school days. The cost is $205 per week through the end of the second semester in January and need-based scholarships are available to help defray the cost.
“We’re trying to offer the community something we believe that kids and parents need,” Spatz says. “We recognize this whole school year is scary for parents and that there is a lot to overcome and we are trying to help.”