How is a summer learning and sports program adapted to the pandemic

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Over 200 young people from East Harlem and the South Bronx logged in for their first day of DREAM’s REAL Kids summer program in July 2020. The leadership of the six-week baseball and softball-focused program made the decision in March to connect virtually with its kindergarten and elementary school students.

“As a sports-based program, we were really grappling with the question, ‘How do you keep the spirit of the sport alive through a virtual experience? “Especially if you can’t send students to the fields every day the same way,” said Kalila Hoggard, executive director of programs at DREAM.

Part of the solution was to build on the guiding principle of the program: to combine academic enrichment, socio-emotional learning and physical activity as a team.

In the morning portion of the program, this meant bringing students together in virtual Zoom reading and activity rooms run by high school student coaches from DREAM’s charter school and others from the community. In the afternoon, students would join their virtual teams in small groups for games and indoor fitness exercises, also led by their coaches.

Students name their teams, create cheers and come together for MVP celebrations in their virtual Friday “Run Rallies”.

“It’s really essential that they have that sense of a common identity,” Hoggard said. “So all of their activities are done through teams the same way they are in a sports team, you are that cohesive unit that works together. “

Building a “base of trust”

According to Eve Colavito, Director of Education at DREAM, the team aspect keeps students engaged.

“What we do know is that often what brings a student back is the relationship they have with their coach or with their teacher,” said Colavito. “When you start something new, I think you really need to invest in building that relationship… because we believe that this foundation of trust will contribute to the success and effectiveness of the program. “

In the midst of a critical summer where the potential for learning loss– aggravated by what researchers are calling a coronavirus or a COVID slide – is very high, especially for low-income black and brown students, these relationships are what Colavito hopes the REAL Kids program will strengthen.

“When we think of: what are we falling back on? What can we hold true in times of trauma? It’s a connection and a relationship, ”she said. “Part of the reason we weren’t willing to give up on our summer programs this year … we needed to maintain those bonds and relationships with our kids to make sure we responded in a way that recognized. the humanity of our children to this collective trauma.


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