BEVERLY — As a college sophomore taking classes online from home, Amanda Desmond understands the shortcomings and isolation of virtual learning. And she knows those problems can be even more difficult for younger students.

"There's a lack of connection with the professors," she said. "I believe it's the same with kids, almost worse."

Desmond and three other Beverly students have stepped up to try to fill in some of those gaps for elementary school students in their hometown. They have established a free program called 3 Square that offers after-school activities and homework help to kindergartners through fourth-graders on Google Hangout.

The program is offered at no charge through the Beverly Recreation Department, with sessions running Monday through Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. Jon Paddol, the recreation department's assistant director, said Ella Colten and Charlie Mack first approached him with the idea when they were working as camp counselors this summer.

Colten, who graduated from Beverly High School in June and is taking the semester off from UMass-Amherst, and Mack, now a senior at the high school, enlisted the help of Desmond and Molly Pierce. Desmond is a sophomore at UMass-Amherst and Pierce is a sophomore at the University of Southern Maine.

"It was 100% their idea and it's been 100% their effort," Paddol said. "The rec department is proud to have our name on it, but it really is the effort of the kids and their ideas and the passion they're bringing to it."

Paddol said about two dozen families have signed up for 3 Square (Colten and Mack came up with the name based on the summer camp game of 4 Square). Students have the option of logging into an "activity room" of their choice. Activities include crafts, games, video and stories. There is also a "homework help" room.

The activities and homework help are overseen by volunteer students from Beverly High School. Nearly 40 have signed up, Desmond said.

"They really care about the community and they want to help their peers," she said.

The activities are geared toward the age levels of the participants, and require only basic materials like paper, scissors and glue.

Desmond, who is an economics major at UMass, has worked with younger students before, including running after-school programs with Colten at Beverly Bootstraps and the Salem Boys & Girls Club.

"I found that not only is it a real educational experience for me, helping with project management and organizational and teamwork skills, but I see a lot of impacts in the community," she said. "It's building a sense of a community at a time when we're all very separate."

Paddol said the after-school program can provide a break for parents of younger children who have been dealing with the challenges of online learning during the pandemic.

"They're really offering a valuable product for families that need it," he said.

To sign up for the program, send a message to 3squareafterschool@gmail.com.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at pleighton@salemnews.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.

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