It has been about one year since the Fort Gordon Middle School and Teen Center (MSTC) was forced to close its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it never fully stopped serving its most valued patrons.
MSTC staff continued working behind the scenes during the facility’s closure, ensuring students had access to virtual instruction and programming. Now that the center has reopened and in-person learning has resumed for a majority of area students, the MSTC is seeing a slow but steady flow of familiar faces come through its doors.
“It’s exciting,” said Selena Doctor-Smith, Middle School and Teen Center director. “I’m ready for our numbers to be back to where they were.”
Parents can send their students having peace of mind knowing that several precautionary measures are in place to ensure safety against COVID-19. Upon arrival to the center, everyone must have their temperature taken then are instructed to a handwashing station. Masks are required, hand sanitizer is easily accessible, Plexiglass “sneeze guards” serve as safety barriers at tables, computer keyboards have plastic covers that get sanitized before and after use, and seating areas are spaced in a way that increases social distancing.
USDA-approved breakfast, lunch and snacks are provided, but instead of students serving themselves, dedicated MSTC staff prepare and serve individually wrapped items from behind plexiglass.
“We’ve ensured that we are enforcing the children’s health and welfare first by enforcing protocol … so we’ve done everything necessary to make sure our facilities are sanitized, our staff is safe, our families are safe and everything so we could resume,” Doctor-Smith said.
The facility is open for before school care and virtual learning Monday through Friday, 5:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. for a fee (based on total family income). Any registered student may drop in between 1 to 6 p.m. without a fee for open recreation, programming, homework assistance, and socializing with other students. The center has also restarted its transportation program, which enables students to be picked up after school and transported to the MSTC.
Staff Sgt. Paul Wesley, 706th Military Intelligence Group, said his 17-year-old daughter has been going to the MSTC for the past three years. In addition to feeling confident his daughter is safe, Wesley said the center has had a positive impact on her potential career path, noting that she recently declared an interest in cybersecurity.
“She’s had some influence from intel Soldiers who have come in and volunteered, and discussed their cybersecurity careers,” Wesley said. “I think it’s very awesome … kids have bright ideas and a vivid imagination in regards to what they want to do when they become an adult. It comes and goes … they change their mind a lot. But now she has something she can work towards.”
A large portion of the MSTC’s programming focuses on STEM and caters to students’ development and exploration of STEM-related fields.
“The teen center is very valuable for kids’ development socially and educationally,” Wesley said. “It allows them to do their homework with a computer center and then also play games with their peers while their parents finish up at work.”
Youth 11 through 18 years old, who are in grades 6-12, may participate in programs and activities at the center. They must also be registered with Fort Gordon Child and Youth Services.
The Fort Gordon Middle School and Teen Center is located at 165 Brainard Avenue.
Stop by, visit the Gordon CYS Teen Facebook page, or call 706-791-6500, for more information.
“We are here to provide support, and we want parents to know that we are here for them and to let their kids come, because we do put their child’s welfare and safety first,” Doctor-Smith said.