And to do it all as budgets shrink
In a typical year, local school districts and community partners offer summer enrichment activities that allow children to maintain their academic progress while gaining work experience or diving deep into interest areas they might not typically have a chance to explore in depth. Often, those deep dives involve collaborative, hands-on group work.
This year, however, many organizations devoted to summer learning will have to figure out how to engage students in enrichment programs provided remotely—if they’re offering them at all.And at the same time, summer programs and community groups are facing severe budget cuts, as funders start to reckon with the economic impact of the coronavirus.
But drastically scaling back or cutting summer enrichment is likely to hurt the students whose learning has already been set back the most by the haphazard shift to remote schooling: students from low-income families who rely on free or low-cost enrichment options, said Aaron Dworkin, the chief executive officer of the National Summer Learning Association.
“I would argue that this is a time to be hyper-creative and hyper-collaborative,” said Dworkin, whose organization believes that investing in summer learning is key to closing the achievement gap. “One district and one entity cannot do everything by itself. What other resources do we have in our community that we can tap into?”
Keeping ‘Woo Hoo’ Spirit
Robin Berlinsky, the executive director of the Charleston, S.C.-based Engaging Creative Minds, is among the organizations forging new partnerships in order to keep what she called the “woo hoo spirit” in its summer program.
Normally, the organization would host an in-person “STEAM Institute” that combines the arts with lessons in science, technology, engineering, and math.
This year, the program will be mostly remote. But “summer is still summer,” Berlinsky said. “It should be a time for more exploration—having so much fun you don’t know you’re learning.”
The program has brought in new partners; for example, the organization has enlisted the help of a local antique car club to have a parade through town as a way to engage students in history. And for at least the first few weeks, the program is doing away with the need for children to have a computer to participate.
“What we’re trying to say is, it’s OK, let’s get back to the basics,” Berlinsky said. “Kids will become motivated simply by being curious about something.”
Once a week, they hope to bring children together in person in small groups in an outdoor setting, to report on what they’ve done over the past few days and to get a renewed infusion of fun and purpose. To accommodate social distancing, Berlinsky said the outdoor gatherings, as well as the summer meal sites, will have appropriately spaced chalk circles that each child can stand in during the check-ins.
The program is building in the ability to respond to changes, depending on directives from health or educational officials.
“We like to say we can turn it on a dime,” Berlinsky said. “The way we start, I’m pretty sure, will not be the way we finish.”