As the school year draws to a close, City Connects Coordinators across the country are helping students prepare for summer, connecting them to services and opportunities that will help them succeed when school isn’t in session.
For, Asha Quattrocchi, a City Connects Coordinator at the Cold Spring School in Indianapolis, Ind., this means sharing information and making connections.
Quattrocchi went with two other coordinators to a summer camp fair. They gathered information on camps that offer arts, dance, sports, STEM, and academics programs. Quattrocchi brought this information back to her school and shared it at family night, a monthly event.
She followed up with parents to see if they’d chosen a camp and to ask if they needed any help signing their children up.
“The biggest obstacle is transportation,” Quattrocchi explains. To address this, she’s helping parents to connect with each other so they can carpool. Another challenge is cost, so Quattrocchi is connecting families with organizations that offer scholarships and asking other organizations if they can lower their fees.
Quattrocchi is also working with students who have higher needs. She is particularly focused on students in the “Backpack Club,” — who, during the school year, bring home food for the weekend — making sure they have food over the summer. She also wants to ensure that these children have positive relationships with adults over the summer by connecting students to the YMCA as well as the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, and other mentoring programs.
“A lot of our kids just need attention,” Quattrocchi says. “A lot of kids come and say, ‘Can I just spend time with you?’ They just need attention and love.”
In Dayton, Ohio, at the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) Middle School, City Connects Coordinator Brittany Lewis hosted the third annual summer opportunities fair.
“We decided to launch a fair instead of just offering individualized services,” to the school’s population of families in grades K-8, Lewis says. “We spend the entire school year building and networking community-based relationships, so that when it’s time to host our fair, the last two months of the school year, we reach out to all of those agencies and additional agencies that have summer programs, and we ask them to come to the fair.”
“This year we decided to take the fair to the next level and host it for all three of DECA’s campuses.” Lewis adds. At the three-hour long fair, 30 programs shared information with 290 families.
To make sure that middle school families received a wide array of information from all the organizations, Lewis set up a game.
DECA Middle school has four houses: Mandela, Obama, Chisholm, and Angelou (named after South African President Nelson Mandela, U.S. President Barack Obama, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, and writer Maya Angelou). Families who visited summer programs in three different zones received stamps in passports, and these passports could be turned in to earn points for students’ houses.
Among the providers who were there are:
• the YMCA
• Clubhouse, a faith-based program that provides activities for elementary and middle school students and internships for high school students
• YouthWorks – which is helping an 8th grader work at Clubhouse, and
• Freedom Schools – a summer camp for urban students
“Parents loved the fair,” Lewis says, “And word-of-mouth spread, so more parents asked for information afterwards.” To meet this need, Lewis posted information on the Internet.
The plan for next year’s fair: Go bigger by adding a kids’ zone with hot dogs and face painting, so kids can attend the fair, while their parents gather information about exciting summer options.
In Salem, Mass., coordinators are building on what they learned last summer about local programs.
“Our coordinators get on the referral trail early to get summer spots secured,” Ellen Wingard, City Connect’s Salem Program manager says. “They have been actively identifying the students who would benefit from summer opportunities, and then actively working with programs and parents to make the match.”
Starting early is essential because some programs will fill up before City Connects families realize that they are available.
Another part of the job, Wingard says, is preparing programs to meet the needs of City Connects’ students who need individualized care, so coordinators share students’ strengths and needs to ensure that their summer experience goes well.
Logistics also get attention.
“We really try to centralize registration for all of our community partners, so that it’s in the hands of coordinators.” This cuts down on duplicated referrals and helps ensure that students who would benefit from summer programs are not overlooked.
Among the community partners in Salem who provide summer opportunities are the Boys and Girls Club. There’s also LEAP for Education, which runs free academic and enrichment full-day summer programs for middle school students. And there’s Salem’s YMCA, which provides 120 slots in academic and enrichment programs for students in 1st-5th grade – and also provides breakfast, lunch, and transportation.
Salem’s goal for making summer referrals is to “look at how things are working and how we can do it better,” Wingard says, essentially summing up the continuous improvement that makes City Connects successful.
“We’re looking forward to matching kids even more effectively than we did last year.”