By Guest Blogger Dr. Deborah Moroney, AIR
Last summer was pretty great. My 13-year-old son took a math class and attended a soccer camp at the local high school, led by the high school team players. My younger son, then age 12, worked stage crew on a youth-led production. Then, in July and August, they went to their favorite place on earth, a YMCA camp in northern Michigan, where they forged lifelong friendships. As the world continues to experience the coronavirus pandemic, this summer will likely be very different, and not just for my children.
As a researcher who has studied out-of-school time experiences, I know just how important these opportunities are for my children and children and youth around the country. Summer is a great time for children and youth to develop and explore their interests—and have fun.
Summertime experiences usually include both structured and unstructured time for learning and development. Structured opportunities include day and residential camps, such as district-led summer learning programs, and specialty camps like the ones offered by the Serious Fun Children’s Network. Children and youth also participate in programs on nature and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); summer school, where they catch up on or dive deeper into core subjects; and sports and recreation programs for physical activities. For older youth, Summer Youth Employment Programs provide practical experience that they can draw on as adults.
In a typical summer, the demand for structured summertime experiences far outweighs the availability. For youth who live in poverty and/or in rural areas, these issues of access are even greater. This year, when the coronavirus has had a significant effect on our daily lives, summertime programming is a question mark both for families and program providers.
Whether summertime programs can open and operate this summer depends on where they are located, the policies of their parent organizations, and their budgets, which dictate not only what they can offer but also their staffing and other operational necessities. Seasonal hiring by organizations operating summertime programs is risky at best this year.
Many organizations offering summertime programming are dependent on fees or per-participant reimbursements and have been experiencing financial uncertainty during this time. Some organizations have faced the challenge of having to keep select programs open for children of essential workers, while also furloughing significant numbers of staff. Public agencies’ budgets are also tight, and many major jurisdictions have proposed funding cuts to Summer Youth Employment Programs. One bright spot is that corporate sector philanthropic investors—like JP Morgan Chase, a longtime supporter of summer youth employment programs--remain committed financially to quality summertime offerings.
Support and Resources for Summertime Program Providers
In the midst of these challenges and the general flux of what this summer might be like across the country, here are some resources for those who intend to provide summertime programs in-person, online, or in a digital format.
Dr. Deborah Moroney is the Managing Director, American Institutes of Research (AIR). She specializes in bridging research and practice, having worked as a staff member for out-of-school programs early in her career. She's written practitioner and organizational guides; co-authored the fourth edition of “Beyond the Bell®, A Toolkit for Creating High-Quality Afterschool and Expanded Learning Programs,” a seminal afterschool resource; and co-edited Creating Safe, Equitable, Engaging Schools: A Comprehensive, Evidence-Based Approach to Supporting Students and Social and Emotional Learning in Out-of-School Time Foundations and Futures. Presently, Dr. Moroney serves as the principal investigator on national studies of afterschool initiatives.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.