Guest Column

For our kids, we need to get this summer right

By Tiffany Wutzke
Posted 6/3/21

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 …

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Guest Column

For our kids, we need to get this summer right


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, the specter of a horrible disease has loomed.

Many students have felt isolated. Some haven’t done as well with online learning — either for reasons of access or simply because it just didn’t click for them. Others have been entirely left behind. 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 Washington, many children and families will find that summer learning programs are the solution — if we ensure they are structured to meet 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 can be found. And come fall, the status of the pandemic permitting, we want them to be ready to resume a normal school schedule, and not to be burned 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 in this most unusual time. In addition to help with academics, they give students the chance to learn new skills: creating websites, computer coding, making videos, planting, and 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, and take them to visit local businesses, science centers, libraries, museums, colleges, parks and more.

The Youth Clubs of Park County’s summer learning program will be held at the Northwest College Center for Development and Training. Children will have  a variety of hands-on STEM activities (science, technology, engineering, and math) to do every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday starting Monday, June 7 and ending June 30. This is a free program supported by our federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant.  We have teachers Jeff Greaham, Brenda Hackenberg, Kristin Warner and paraeducators Sonya Braten, Cristy Hoffert and Kacie Costello joining us in this exciting new program. Please stop by the club for more information.   

Even under normal circumstances — pre-pandemic, that is — research showed that students in afterschool 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 afterschool 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. In a newly released study, the Afterschool Alliance found that more than 18,000 Wyoming children and youth were without access to summer learning programs in 2019. But the American Rescue Plan provides significant funding to states that they can use to support summer learning programs. As a result, school districts and state education agencies can support summer learning programs and afterschool programs that will supplement classroom education, serving more kids, in more places, for longer periods of time, using evidence-based best 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. We need now to make sure we bring everyone to the table.

(Tiffany Wutzke is the director of programming and training at the Youth Clubs of Park County, and serves as Wyoming afterschool ambassador for the Afterschool Alliance.)

Guest Column