For Our Kids

By Nicole Carter - City Of Hallandale Bch

June 3, 2021

We Need To Get This Summer Right

Even under normal circumstances – pre-pandemic, that is – research showed that students in afterschool and summer learning programs get better grades

For students and educators alike, this school year has been a seemingly endless grind, presenting one trauma-inducing challenge, after another. School schedules have been in flux, safety protocols have been an adjustment, screen time has been on overload and throughout, this specter, of a horrible disease has loomed over us. Many students have felt isolated, some haven't done as well with on-line learning – either for reasons of access or simply, because, it just didn't click for them. Others have been entirely left behind and in short, we have a lot of ground to make up.

So, as summer approaches, our schools and families face painful challenges, as they work to bring students back together. Our children need the chance to make up any lost ground and reconnect with classmates. But, we need that to happen in a way that doesn't burn out students and teachers, all of whom, have been through the ringer, this past year.

With a boost from the American Rescue Plan, the latest COVID relief bill from Washing-ton, many children and families will find that summer learning programs are the solution, if we ensure, that they are structured to meet at the moment.

Now more than ever, we need to pay attention to the full range of our children's needs. Getting back on track academically, is surely part of the puzzle, but, it's not the only part. We also want them to reconnect with classmates and educators, create forums for them to talk about their Pandemic experiences, do hands-on, team-based learning, get some exercise and experience as much normalcy, as it can be found. Come fall, the status of the Pandemic, permitting, we want the children to be ready to resume, to a normal school schedule and not to be burnt out, on the first day of school. That's why, summer learning programs have such a vital role to play. They mix learning and fun in exactly the ways our kids need it, in this most unusual time. In addition to help with academics, they give students the chance to learn new skills: Creating Web-sites, Com-puter Coding, Making Videos, Planting, Maintaining Community Gardens, Learning Photography, Building Robots and so much more. They make sure students have plenty of time to run around and be kids – playing individual and team sports, splashing in swimming pools, shooting baskets or playing volleyball. They connect children with community organizations for service projects, take them to visit local businesses, science centers, libraries, museums, colleges, parks and more.

Our summer learning program at the City of Hallandale Beach After School Tutorial and Enrich-ment Program will include project-based learning, activities in science, technology, engineering, the arts, mathematics (STEAM), cultural and performing arts activities, swimming lessons and field trips. We have 180 students enrolled and are staffed with seven certified teachers, seven teacher assistants, five teacher aides and seven summer youth aides.

Even under normal circumstances – Pre-Pandemic, that is – research has shown, that students in after school and summer learning programs get better grades, are more excited about learning and participate more, in school. That's not just because of the specific information they learn in summer and after school programs, but because of the skills they build, including teamwork and problem-solving, for example.

In recent years, one significant reason that many children did not participate in summer programs, was that there weren't programs to be found. The American Rescue Plan provides significant funding to states that can be used to support summer learning programs. As a result, school districts and state education agencies can support summer learning programs, after school programs that will supplement classroom education, serving more kids, in more places, for longer periods of time and by using the best evidence-based, practices. It's been a hard year for everyone and we've got a lot of ground to make up. We'll need every player in our children's learning ecosystem – schools, summer learning programs, youth-serving organizations, parents and families – to play a part in the recovery process. New resources make that possible, thank goodness and now, we need to make sure that we bring everyone to the table!

Nicole Carter Is The Youth Services Supervisor For The City of Hallandale Beach and serves as an After School Ambassador For Florida For The After School Alliance.