OpenHubs’s Rapid Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Transition to online learning for Newburgh Girls Code Club (NGCC):

OpenHub, in collaboration with the Newburgh Free Library, mentors youth in an ongoing after-school coding club based on Girls Who Code whose mission is to “close the gender gap in technology and to change the image of what a programmer looks like and does”.

Since the Fall, participants ages 11 through 18 from all over the Hudson Valley, gathered together every Wednesday at the Newburgh Free Library. These talented, young coders met to create projects, learn code, develop as innovators and emerging leaders, and to build strong friendships.

Participants came from the following locations (in alphabetical order):

  • Beacon – Beacon City School District, Dutchess County
  • Cornwall-on-Hudson – Cornwall Central School District, Orange County
  • Goshen – Goshen Central School District, Orange County
  • Marlboro – Marlboro Central School District, Ulster County
  •  Middletown – Middletown City School District, Orange County
  • New Windsor – Newburgh Enlarged City School District, Orange County
  • Newburgh – Newburgh Enlarged City School District, Orange County         

Challenge: How to transition an in-person, after-school program with participants from 7 schools, in 6 different school districts, and 3 surrounding Counties, to one, accessible remote-learning environment?

Coordinator/Mentor Yulia  Ovchinnikova reports back on challenges and learnings throughout the process of transitioning students to meeting online.


  • Sunday, March 15, 2020, student ‘scholars’ in grades 3-11 from the City of Newburgh Enlarged School District were sent home with Chromebooks.
  • Beginning Tuesday, March 17, 2020, beyond providing breakfast and lunch to each child under 18, the Technology Department set up 1,000 hotspots to provide access for those without internet at home. 
  • The district used the Google Education Application Suite such as Google Classroom and Student Gmail as the primary source for instruction and educational materials. Other applications could also be used such as: Class Dojo orRemind and for older students:  iRead, iReady, Go Math, Read 180 and Math 180.  

Parents, students, faculty and the school district needed to adapt to new norms, pedagogy and engagement overnight. This was a huge shift and an incredible undertaking for all concerned. The community and Newburgh Enlarged City School District is to be applauded for the vast, community-wide efforts that allowed their successful implementation and rapid response.

Yulia Ovchinnikova found several issues that challenged an afterschool program which had participants from a variety of school districts that made the transition more challenging than a remote classroom for a single school district. 

Privacy and Security

In order to bring all the participants from the program together, we ran into issues of privacy and security that had been well established by the Newburgh Enlarged City School District. Astutely, the school district had adopted a policy on Computer Use in Instruction as early as August 23, 2016.

The district reserves the right to control access to the Internet for all users of its computers and network.  The district may either allow or prohibit certain kinds of online activity, or access to specific websites.2

The Newburgh Enlarged City School District had been a pioneer in early adoption of access to technology for its students. It is an educational norm and best-practice for a school district to limit access from the outside to a students device. Similarly, student devices use only ‘whitelisted’ resources which limit which websites a device has access. 

However, this put NGCC in an unusual situation. “If club participants used their school devices, we could only meet with one school at a time,” Ovchinnikova reports. “The members of the club were from many different schools and they shared strong social connections with each other. Also they had ongoing projects in development, in order to continue their work, they needed to meet crossing boundaries of school districts and counties. This was a very frustrating problem for the students as well as for the mentors.”

“Because the ChromeBooks from Newburgh could not connect with other school districts, I tried to use Zoom, which is a free, easy to use application. I chose Zoom because it is the best platform for meeting online. The Mozilla Developers Network confirmed Zoom as #1for their proactive and responsive development. Other programs like Google Hangout which is becoming Google Meet is still in development and while privacy compliance has limited communication functionality. I explored Web Ex and Skype as well, but the steeper learning curve and depth of these programs proved insufficient.” 

“However, the ChromeBooks were whitelisted and not able to access Zoom because the Zoom application was not considered privacy compliant. One suggestion I received was for club participants to use an alternative device, like a computer, phone, or tablet of a family member. This solution worked for only 70% of the students. Participation in a club that gives youth access to learning tech was now bumping into the digital divide.”

Local Issues of the Digital Divide

The digital divide exists and it has three components – broadband, devices, and digital literacy,” declares Ovchinnikova. Students from underserved or marginalized communities may have experiences and challenges beyond those with financial resources. Access to technological devices, robust broadband connection, digital literacy and the physical space to work are among the challenges that Open Hub embraced as they transitioned from in-person to remote meetings.  

Broadband vs. HotSpots

The  Technology Department for the Newburgh Enlarged City School District provided 1,000 hotspots to provide access for those without internet at home. However, there were digital divide issues in access with hotspot service as well. For online streaming, broadband, in homes that could afford hi-speed internet access had signals that enabled 50 Mbs while hotspot signals were 1-2 Mbs.

Lack of access to sufficient broadband severely challenges our members to meet online in a vibrant remote classroom setting. This is not to blame the school district. This problem has everything to do with access to information being a human right. Perhaps it is time to build public infrastructure that engages all residents access to information and opportunity?

Digital Literacy and New Norms for Parents

For parents, digital literacy can be anything from a first experience with tech to learning new standards for student’s use for remote learning. 

“Parents had to get up to speed quickly. The entire household was affected in this change to online, remote-learning. At home, students needed new structures to wake up on time and attend classes. In many homes, a desk and quiet work area may not be readily available. And parents had homework as well, reviewing regulations and policy to understand how devices and remote-learning was to proceed.”

 “Take time to review these expectations with your child.  Students are required, at all times, to respect the privacy of other participants. This means never make audio or video recordings or screenshots of teachers or classmates. ” 1

For parents and caregivers without digital literacy, the pandemic proved how important it is for everyone to gain basic tech skills. As with access to broadband, perhaps access to education is part of the basic human right to information?

Ovchinnikova closes with, “I am in love with Newburgh. Providing more access to technology and entrepreneurship programs will help people in our region become more economically sustainable. Learning digital tech opens one’s mind and future to opportunities. Teaching technology, we teach problem solving, resilience and empowerment.”


  • Classes are ongoing and without interruption. 
  • Students and Mentors are adjusting to the new paradigm of online classroom.


  1. “Newburgh Distance Learning Guidance Document”, page 3, Publisher: Newburgh Enlarged City School District, Orange County.
  2. Document #4526 “COMPUTER USE IN INSTRUCTION” Adopted: August 23, 2016. Publisher: Newburgh Enlarged City School District, Orange County.
  3. Covid-19 Response. Data Privacy Initiative (DPS) 2020. Publisher: Regional Information Centers (RIC) of NY, organized under the Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES).

OpenHub’s Rapid Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Transition to online learning for OpenHub’s Web Development Bootcamp: 

  • On March 13, 2020, Web Development Bootcamp Mentor Shannah White sent an email to her students: Web Dev classes moving to ONLINE forum. Three days later,  Hudson Valley’s technology hub known as OpenHub was online teaching classes using Zoom. 
  • March 18, 2020 Governor Cuomo announced school shutdowns statewide would go into effect and for only 2 weeks. 

As a Technology Hub in the Hudson Valley of New York State, our organization has been nimble to anticipate needs and timelines to sustain our classes, meetups, and future events, such as the annual HV TechFest, planning on being held in October. 


Overtaxed Broadband Infrastructure: 

According to the NY Times article,  ‘Surging Traffic Is Slowing Down Our Internet’, Ookla, a broadband speed testing service reported that median download speeds slowed by up to 24 percent in New York. The unprecedented strain on our technology infrastructure and the variance from household-to-household on the quality of connection challenged our ability to meet online and to use video to see each other’s faces. 

Pedagogy (teaching style and methodology)

Mentor Shannah White shares some concerns and feedback on transitioning to online classrooms.  

“At first, I was concerned about ‘How to engage students in an active learning experience?’ and ‘How to gauge lesson comprehension?’ Since my students were tech students, I assumed that we would all skill up rather quickly, and we did. But with every new system, there is a learning curve. We learned new habits about logging on, sharing screens, muting mic’s, that kind of thing. After a couple of classes, that all started to feel routine.”

Initial challenges switching from in-person to remote learning ? 

“Something I immediately missed when we transitioned from the physical, in-person to virtual classroom, was  the ability to see people’s facial expressions and read body language. To ease stress on broadband signals students join classes with static photos instead of video. Also, the in-person classroom had a certain ‘energy’. So when we switched to online teaching, I felt a little awkward, even a little blind like, how can I read how well my student’s learning process is going if I can’t see their body language? And there was a new feeling of claustrophobia, as I was trying to fit everything onto the screen, from student I.D. photos to the chat column to the different materials I wanted to  present.”

What would be your 3 top learnings from the transition to remote teaching? 

“What quickly replaced those feelings was a confidence that now all the students had an equal opportunity to see the material — to sit in the ‘virtual front row’, which brought a sense of intimacy and engagement to the learning experience. Sometimes in the physical classroom, I would have the feeling that some students felt ‘farther away’ than others. But now, I am starting to prefer the online medium because of each student’s access to a front row seat. To further engage students, I only need to ask questions. Reading body language is being replaced by listening and asking students questions. So I no longer feel blind because I can hear. ”

“In the physical classroom, if a student needed individual attention, the other students couldn’t see the issue on that student’s computer screen. However, in the virtual classroom, students share their screen and everyone can see us work-through their issue together. In the online environment everyone can learn from that student’s challenge, and even contribute, which allows for mutual learning, peer-to-peer.”

“Lastly, by recording the class, I can offer students an opportunity to review what was taught in class and process the information at their own speed, by controlling when to pause the video.”


  • Classes are ongoing and without interruption. 
  • Students and Mentors are adjusting to the new paradigm of online classroom. 
  • A grant was funded to allow for weekly office hours, which give students extra time, one-on-one, with their Mentor. 
  • The enrollment attrition-rate was nearly none because of the transition to online classrooms. 
  • There are now recordings of each class which is a new resource for student learning.