HAYS — First Presbyterian Church, 2900 Hall St., has opened a Remote Learning Center to accommodate Ellis County middle school and high school students who are engaged in remote/hybrid learning.


The center was funded by a $17,000 EllisCARES grant, most of which is going to pay the six learning support staff, said the Rev. Celeste Lasich, the church’s pastor. Five of those staff members are education majors at Fort Hays State University. The sixth is a former para with Hays USD 489.


The center is taking enrollment for up to 20 students in 3½-hour blocks, with separate morning and afternoon groups. The center’s hours are 8 to 11:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, through Dec. 14.


"If there is a need, hours can be expanded to include some evenings and weekends," Lasich said.


Pre-registration is required. Enrollment is available at Signup.com. Two staff monitors will be on duty for each session.


Lasich said that before she wrote the grant in August, she visited with school administrators in districts across Ellis County. She said she discovered "there are a significant number of students in Hays who are enrolled as remote or hybrid learners."


Even though Hays public schools are currently offering in-school instruction, some of the middle school and high school students have some of their classes in person and are taking other classes online.


"We want to offer support to kids who are at home and their parents who have to be home and can’t go to work. Or, their home internet access is not adequate," Lasich said.


The center is also open to students whose parents have traditionally home-schooled them but would like for their children to have a certain amount of social interaction.


"Three and a half hours is a lot to sit, so we are not planning for just the same 20 kids every day," Lasich said.


The center is open to both public and private school students. The only requirement for enrollment is the students must be living in Ellis County.


She emphasized the center is not for students who are quarantining because of exposure to COVID-19.


The center is located in the church’s fellowship hall and features boosted Wi-Fi and a dedicated entrance. Students and staff will wear masks, and social distancing will be observed. Students will have assigned seats, and staff will clean and sanitize throughout the day, Lasich said.


Temperature checks will be taken prior to each session. Attendance will be taken. A refrigerator will be available for students who wish to bring their lunch and/or snacks. Exercise breaks will be taken.


Students will be required to provide their own computers. While staff won’t do students’ work for them, they will be available to assist students who are having trouble deciphering their teachers’ instructions. One of the staff members is bilingual in Spanish, and individuals can request sessions when she is on duty, Lasich said.


"Everybody in school right now is dealing with trauma," Lasich said. "We are here to help the students learn effectively, and that can take many forms."


Lasich said parents are welcome to tour the center before enrolling their children. She can be reached a pastorcelestehays@gmail.com.