Manhattan Youth Readies to Aid 'Parents in a Pickle' Over School Start

Blake Ruiz removes stools from the Downtown Community Center science lab, one of the rooms that will be retrofitted as a city Learning Lab site for remote teaching. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Aug. 28, 2020

Blake Ruiz has had his work cut out for him. For the last couple of weeks he’s been going from room to room in Manhattan Youth’s Downtown Community Center in Tribeca, sanitizing each object and surface, moving out furniture, organizing closets, and more, in preparation for the centers newly reimagined educational role. 

Once the work is done, the spaces will be refitted into one of the Department of Education’s Learning Labs, places where children gather for remote teaching. Manhattan Youth is also expected to resume some modified version of its after-school services. 

“The most important thing is to clear all this stuff up so the kids will have space for tables and chairs, all equidistant from each other,” said Ruiz, whose job as the center’s assistant director for membership and client relations had to be reimagined after the center was forced to close in March. 

“I feel like I’m here now for the recovery of the center,” Ruiz said. “We’re all trying to build the center back up again for what the new reality is going to be.”

With all the uncertainty still swirling around the Sept. 10 start of the school year, that hasn’t been easy. The Downtown Community Center, 120 Warren St., will be one of many Learning Labs that together are expected to serve 100,000 children. But like principals, teachers and city officials, “We’re still figuring it all out,” Manhattan Youth Director Bob Townley said in an interview. 

The center will serve 3rd through 8th graders, and they’ll be separated by grades, Townley said, but “we don’t know if kids from different schools would be separated and we don’t know which schools will be coming here. We’re going to figure that all out.”

Manhattan Youth’s upcoming after-school programs also are a work in progress. “The principals do not really know what they’re doing yet, so we’re waiting to see what we can do in the schools. And we might be able to start some after school at the community center, and bring the kids here at 3 o’clock.”

In the meantime, the installation of a new $100,000 HVAC system, partially paid for by a Manhattan Youth fundraising campaign, is nearly complete. Other costs, Townley said, for extra staff and new furniture is underfunded by the city. “But we feel that we have to take the money and run the program to keep our own people employed,” he said, “and we want to take as many kids as possible to help the parents.”

“There will be people in a pickle,” Townley added, “and we’re trying to get ready for them.”