But now, coordinators are planning around the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Summer is a moving target this year,” Lynne Sullivan, City Connects’ Director of Implementation, says. School districts are trying to figure out what programs they can safely offer. Some camps are closing. And parents, especially those who have to go to work, are facing uncertainty.
“One of the things that coordinators are trying to balance this summer is an emphasis on trying to make up for academic learning loss and address students’ need for social-emotional support,” Sullivan adds.
In City Connect schools across the country, this means connecting students to a mix of creative opportunities.
“In Hamilton County in Tennessee,” Sullivan says, “coordinators are voluntarily keeping student support teams going over the summer so they can continue to discuss students and ensure that the supports they need are in place.”
And in Boston, City Connects’ community partner Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Massachusetts has committed to keeping students virtually connected to their mentors during the summer.
In Dayton, Ohio, Adairia Kelly, the coordinator at DECA Prep, has helped create a summer reading program that uses City Connects’ tiers of strengths and needs. Students in tier 1 who have the least risks are enrolled in a traditional summer reading program. Students in tiers 2 and 3 who face more risks participate in the reading program with additional support, including access to a live teacher for tier 3 students.
Megan Bettelon, a City Connects coordinator at Dayton’s Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic School, is referring students to a virtual summer theater program created by Disney, The Lion King Experience at Home.
Community partners are also important in Ohio. Among them is the Kroc Center, which typically runs a summer camp program. This year, instead, Kroc is offering families themed camp boxes. Families can sign up to receive a box each week that includes activities focused on topics like cooking and nature.
In Minnesota, schools are offering distance learning programs that coordinators will participate in to stay connected to students. And one coordinator will have virtual summer office hour times when students can check-in.
“Even though they have a 10-month contract, many coordinators want to continue meeting or checking in with students throughout the summer,” City Connects’ Minnesota Program Manager Laurie Acker says. “Coordinators just feel that at this time the students need that.”
To help students spend some of their summer hours outside and take a break from the computer screens that have become pandemic necessities, coordinators are also thinking of activities, like games and scavenger hunts, that students can do and then share information about during virtual check-ins. Students could, for example, report on birds they’ve seen or other aspects of nature.
And Minnesota coordinators are also referring students to summer activities at the YMCA and to virtual Girl Scout events.
Although the pandemic has created daunting obstacles, it has also created vital opportunities.
“Some coordinators have had stronger relationships with families and kids who normally didn’t want to talk with them,” Acker says. Another coordinator says students linger during Zoom check-ins.
By building on these new connections, strengthening existing connections, and remaining flexible and creative, coordinators are ensuring that students have productive summers that will prepare them for whatever comes in the fall.