From Boston to the Bay Area, Intermediaries Play an Essential Role in Planning for Summer 2020

By Ally Margolis, Every Hour Counts

From Boston to the Bay Area, intermediary organizations are moving swiftly to address a question gaining growing national attention: how are we supporting America’s young people this summer?

Longtime summer learning champion and Partnership for Children & Youth President and CEO, Jennifer Peck, shares that there are, “some unique challenges in front of us, when learning loss, social disconnection and mental health challenges will be as intense as ever.” Executive Director of the National Summer Learning Association, Aaron Dworkin, agrees that while the summer learning community has long cared about the inequities surrounding summer learning loss for students in underserved communities, “now, everyone is feeling what the challenges are — in access to digital connectivity, in realizing learning loss, and realizing lost opportunities for social connection.”

Traditionally, summer has offered young people an opportunity to take pause from the more structured environment and learning experiences of the school year. This pause, however, has differing implications. For some young people, this means “opportunities to engage in fun and enriching activities and programs, while others face additional challenges as they lose a variety of supports, including healthy meals, medical care, supervision, and structured programs that enhance development,” as the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s report, Shaping Summertime Experiences — Opportunities to Promote Healthy Development and Well-Being for Children and Youth, makes clear.

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The RAND Corporation’s new report, commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, Getting Support for Summer Learning: How Federal, State, City, and District Policies Affect Summer Learning Programs, and a blog from The Wallace Foundation, “What the Pandemic Means for Summer Learning — And How Policymakers Can Help,” illuminate the significance of programming this summer, with the blog examining how, “summer programs have always played an important role in supporting students who fall behind academically, but with so many young people across the country losing vital learning time, they may be more important than ever.”

Two Every Hour Counts organizations with nearly twenty years of collective summer learning experience, Boston After School & Beyond and the Partnership for Children & Youth, are springing into action to support their school districts and community partners in addressing both the traditional challenges surrounding summer learning loss, along with the exacerbated and obstacles resulting from the impact of COVID-19.

Their efforts are a window into the integral role that afterschool and summer learning intermediary organizations can play in helping to mitigate the inequities and challenges ahead. Boston After School & Beyond and Partnership for Children & Youth are mobilizing their respective intermediary’s system-building, silo-breaking nature to support school districts with scenario planning, ensure summer programming focuses on social-emotional and mental health supports, and is well-staffed with help from their vast networks of afterschool and summer providers.

Here’s an inside look at how the two organizations are planning for the summer ahead.

Boston After School & Beyond, MA (Boston Beyond)

Boston Beyond has built a system of summer programming for 10+ years, recognized by the MacArthur Foundation as a top solution in its $100 million worldwide grant competition for Boston’s approach to addressing educational inequities through expanded summer learning and employment. Now serving 14,000 young people across 160 programs, Boston Beyond is looking to use its experiences and deeply rooted partnerships to be part of the solution this summer.

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When school’s out, uncertainty grows around young people’s access to basic, academic, and social-emotional needs. A committee member for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Shaping Summertime Experiences report, Chris Smith, Executive Director of Boston Beyond, notes that “when schools close for the summer, many families and caregivers lose access to child care and young people lose access to learning and meals.”

Scenario Planning

Fortunately, Boston Public Schools has recognized these realities too and is partnering with Boston Beyond to “put the best of what we know in place in-person and on-site or remotely.” Step 1 is scenario planning. According to Smith, “whether the probability of in-person summer programming is 10% or 50%, districts and providers must still be prepared.” If in-person learning is possible, Boston Beyond is prepared to ramp up its network of afterschool and summer providers to serve as many young people as possible. This preparation involves careful thought around the places and spaces that promote learning and accommodate physical distancing measures where young people still have the ability to socialize and explore the outdoors. For summer jobs and internships, this means coordinating with career specialists and employer engagement managers to stay connected with high school students and private sector employers, should employment opportunities be allowed to take place in-person this summer.

Bringing Remote Learning to Life

Boston Beyond is already leading the charge to put some of these scenario plans into motion. This involves compiling engaging, project-based Enrichment at Home resources that young people and families can access both now and throughout the summer, including several from local cultural institutions like the New England Aquarium and the Franklin Park Zoo.

Boston Beyond is pairing resources with experiences so activities come alive across the city. Boston Beyond is collaborating with community partners to make this happen, offering a variety of daily, remote learning opportunities for young people, along with professional development sessions for providers. Boston Beyond’s Events Calendar acts as the hub, where young people and families can discover all sorts of exciting learning experiences taking place each day, from building race cars out of recycled materials with Boston’s Museum of Science, to learning about different animal species with the New England Zoo. According to Smith, “remote learning doesn’t have to be online learning. It can also be project-based learning, inquiry-based STEM, SEL activities, and more.” The calendar also features virtual professional development opportunities for providers to continue building their skill sets and learn new ways for supporting young people in person and remotely, like sessions focused on helping youth develop positive mindsets, self-agency and awareness. Additionally, the calendar includes physical fitness activities such as virtual yoga and strength and conditioning classes available to all, caregivers, providers, community members, and young people.

Whether Summer 2020 takes place in person, remotely, or through a blended approach, Boston Beyond is prepared to activate its network of partners to ensure learning continues. Their longstanding approach of infusing skills-based enrichment, academics, and social-emotional development is not only research-based, but allows young people to feel supported socially and emotionally, engage in a variety of new and exciting activities, and build the content knowledge necessary for the following school year and beyond.

Partnership for Children & Youth, Bay Area, CA

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The Partnership for Children & Youth is implementing lessons learned from its Summer Matters Campaign — a campaign to raise awareness about summer learning loss and its disproportionate impact on underserved students — to collaborate with school districts and afterschool providers in serving as many young people as possible this summer.

Partnership for Children & Youth is working with California’s School Administrators Associations and local education agencies (LEAs) to create blueprints for what summer 2020 could look like, including plans for in-person, virtual, and blended programming scenarios, as well as suggestions on how these programs can be financed with existing or new resources. This will also include guidance on the summer meals program and how to ensure PCY’s full range of partners are being maximized, in addition to schools, community-based organizations, libraries, and public housing facilities that can serve meals.

According to Jennifer Peck, districts don’t have to, and should not do this work alone. Most educators understand summer is important, but there’s big concern about the ability to attract or afford teachers in this environment. PCY has had to consistently emphasize the fact that they have a whole network of community-based partners, ready to staff summer programs. “California has the largest-in-the-nation network of publicly funded afterschool programs, many of which also operate summer programs. The staff of these programs are experts at engaging kids and their families and making learning fun,” shares Peck. Her recommendation aligns with the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development’s research, which explains how involving community partners gives youth the opportunity to connect with diverse and caring adults from their community and form relationships that help them feel more connected to school.

This kind of whole-child approach will be more essential than ever in the coming months. Peck stresses that this summer cannot only be centered around learning loss; it’s about “re-engaging young people in learning, supporting their social-emotional development, leading with trauma-informed approaches, and incorporating creative, interactive, and project-based activities.” These are the priorities for PCY, and with the wealth of expertise from its provider community, districts would benefit greatly from leveraging this network to help prepare young people to return to classrooms, whenever that may be.

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For more resources on summer learning, check out The Wallace Foundation’s Knowledge Center, along with the following reports, referenced above:

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Boston After School & Beyond is a public-private partnership that seeks to ensure that all young people in Boston have opportunities to develop their full potential. Boston Beyond mobilizes partnerships among more than 300 programs to create more and better opportunities for young people to develop the skills necessary for school, college, and career success. Find out more about Boston’s summer learning system in this Every Hour Counts blog post by Boston Beyond’s Director of Summer Learning, Wil Cardwell, Summer Learning For All: Cultivate a Diverse Network.

Partnership for Children and Youth is a statewide intermediary that strategically links practice and policy to improve educational opportunities for underserved youth in California. For nearly 20 years, the Partnership for Children & Youth has championed high-quality educational opportunities for California’s underserved youth through advocacy and capacity-building. Learn more about Partnership for Youth’s summer learning work in this Every Hour Counts blog post by Jennifer Peck, Summer Matters More Than Ever.

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