By Sam Piha
Summer programs will be an important gateway to returning to school and healing from a year of isolation. However, these programs should not be pressured to fix the pandemic induced learning loss. Two available articles on focusing on learning loss deserve a read: Too Much Focus on ‘Learning Loss’ Will Be a Historic Mistake and Our Kids Are Not Broken.
Our kids have lost so much—family members, connections to friends and teachers, emotional well-being, and for many, financial stability at home. And, of course, they’ve lost some of their academic progress. The pressure to measure—and remediate—this “learning loss” is intense; many advocates for educational equity are rightly focused on getting students back on track. But I am concerned about how this growing narrative of loss will affect our students, emotionally and academically. Research shows a direct connection between a student’s mindset and academic success.” – Ron Berger, Senior Advisor at EL Education
We’re in the throes of a pandemic. Put yourself in the perspective of a 9-year-old. Students have been looking at a computer for the better part of a year as they learn. So, any summer learning enrichment experience really needs to be re-engaging students in a community of learners. That’s done through experiential learning, getting outdoors, doing projects, [while] maintaining the health and safety standards that are required, to really re-engaging them with experiences. It could be connected to a museum visit. It could be connected to a summer camp where they have experiences.” – Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education
How should we be thinking about our “gateway” summer youth programs? What do youth need from their summer program experiences? How will this year's summer programming differ from past years? We asked some youth program professionals to share their thoughts on how we should we be thinking about summer programs.
This summer is a chance to test theories and demonstrate excellence in collaborative, active, meaningful experiences. We may only get this chance, at this scale, once. The hypothetical question, “if you had [nearly] unlimited funding for summer learning, what would you try, change, experiment with?” is now a reality. This is the time for innovators.
There certainly is great academic learning loss, no question. The social emotional learning loss, however, coupled with the loss of daily personal human contact will have left students with an acute need for programming, activities, and play that intentionally address those needs. As we all know, these basic and critical human needs must be addressed, before there can be any real academic learning. Training to help understand and identify students' mental health issues, coupled with knowing how to refer them to services, will likely be the long-term challenge.
This year’s gateway summer youth programs must be multi-faceted. There is a strong need for social-emotional supports, academic interventions and enrichment opportunities. Programs will play an integral role in re-acclimating students to a structured environment to lay the foundation for their successful return to full-time on-campus instruction. Youth need structured, supportive, well-organized, and focused hubs to support these healthy transitions and provide a break from the monotony of life during the pandemic. While we’re a long way from our old normal, the ability to craft programs that are safe, supportive, and engaging are endless. This year’s return to summer programming has never been more important. As we approach summer programming, we must maximize the opportunity to reach all students. While data will indicate which students are most at-risk and in need of targeted supports, there is also a very real need to maintain contact with and provide supports for students that are at grade-level or above.
This summer, our young people will need the time to breathe, to play, to reconnect, and to enjoy themselves and one another. In many ways, it can be similar to reuniting a family after being apart for so long... to tell their stories, to share their experiences, and to begin the process, welcomed for some and awkward for others, of being together again. This time for healing and reconnecting with their peers and teachers will hopefully rebuild communities of safety, renewed comfort, and stability that can then serve as a foundation for reigniting learning. Being patient and allowing space for the awkwardness of reestablishing connections and for the opportunities to address the trauma and pain of this pandemic year will be essential as we focus on the social-emotional needs of us all- both students and adults.
After a full year of learning isolation, young people are just now returning to school, in a face- to- face or hybrid model. This Fall youth are likely returning to school full time. Summer youth programs will be an important gateway to returning to school and healing from a year of isolation. But how should we be thinking about our gateway summer youth programs? What do youth need from their summer program experiences? How will this year's summer programming differ from past years?
On Friday, May 7, 2021, we are sponsoring a Speaker's Forum/ webinar discussion on this topic. It will be facilitated by Ayala Goldstein (Director of Programs, California School- Age Consortium). She will be joined by Aaron Dworkin (CEO of National Summer Learning Association), Autrilla Gillis (Director of Expanded Learning, ISANA Academies) and Selekha Ramos (Mighty Writers) who will be sharing their thoughts and responding to your questions. To register and learn more, click here.
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.