Since giving up on neighborhood youth during the pandemic was not an option, the Literacy Connects’ Youth Center team forged ahead with its first ever #StoriesThatStream virtual summer camp throughout the month of June. As we designed the online camp, we drew on knowledge gained in our pilot year of after-school programming for middle schoolers.
Key elements that guided our thinking included how to maintain collaboration within a virtual platform, how to foster skill building while keeping kids engaged during long summer days, and how to create a safe space for peer-to-peer interactions during socially isolated times.
Attrition rate ran at about 40% during the first week, but once we had our core group, outputs and outcomes were strong with eight short videos being collaboratively produced over the course of the month. Students learned the value of giving and receiving feedback as they worked to achieve common goals. Campers found their areas of interest by participating in writing, acting, and editing workshops, which allowed them to apply their strengths and skills towards the group’s efforts.
Throughout all the work, one of the most valued activities was ‘morning breakout rooms’ where kids could talk, share, vent, or just goof around and laugh. In these moments, some kids found new friends, helping to ease the devastating effects of loneliness during quarantine.
With this critical learning experience under our belts, we have gained confidence to design the 2020-21 Youth Center after-school virtual program. We know that a higher ratio of teacher to students is needed in a virtual space for one-to-one and small group learning. To address attrition and reduce screen time, students will sign up for weekly workshops of their choice, rather than logging on daily to take part in every aspect of building a collaborative production. To increase variety in our workshops and diversity in teaching styles, we will be partnering with UA Poetry Center and seeking high school interns from Amphi School District’s Career and Technical Education program. Of course, friendship and celebration will still be a focus, since we could all use a little more of that these days.
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