Addressing Safety Concerns while Keeping Summer Fun
Every summer, students across the district look forward to the Adventure Summer Program, run by Somerville Community Schools. With extraordinary circumstances at the moment, “we had to plan quickly and diligently as information regarding health and safety changed constantly” says Community Schools Director Rosanna Paribello. Community Schools is the Somerville Public Schools department charged with running our SPS afterschool and vacation programming.
The pandemic environment presented new challenges to setting up the summer program. Safety for students, staff, and families was priority number one, but having fun and maintaining the same level of quality was also central in the minds of the Community Schools leadership team. The team restructured the entire program around safety guidelines. Leadership made the decision to move the entire program outdoors, rather than meeting in the Healey School building. The program ran at three different sites: the Albert F. Argenziano School, Winter Hill Community Innovation School, and East Somerville Community School. The weekly schedule changed to three in-person days for students at the three sites, alternating with two days of remote activities. During remote days, staff had time to clean and sanitize before students returned for their next exciting in-person day.
At each of the three school sites, the Adventure Summer Program had two staff members working with teams of no more than ten children grouped by age. Supplies and personal protective gear were purchased for each site.
Community Schools staff focused particular attention to designing safe transitions to limit contact and increase social distance. In-person days included a lot of hand washing, and safely refilling water bottles and visiting bathrooms. During the first week, students also learned how to leave and enter the buildings safely and followed all the “new normal” procedures that keep staff and students protected. Staff developed more protocols as the program progressed. For instance, staff learned quickly that “mask breaks” are an important part of staying comfortable on a hot day and can be done properly by sitting on designated spots marked on the ground by hula hoops. In Director Paribello’s words, “we would not have the program we have without our amazing staff!” All adults also went through several comprehensive training sessions to ensure observance of the new safety guidelines.
Sharing information with parents and guardians also evolved this year. Community Schools switched to online document sharing and reminder apps and now communicates paper-free. Staff had already built a custom website to communicate with families for the afterschool program during school closures. Part of communicating with families has also been to share the new safety guidelines so everyone feels comfortable with their children in the program.
Discovering New Favorite Activities
This summer was filled with highlights, despite extraordinary challenges. Participants got to do all the regular fun Adventure Summer Program activities, like arts and crafts, makerspace engineering with found materials, scavenger hunts, relay games, dancing, and cooling down in the sprinklers. Community School teachers started some new traditions with creative social distancing games, including water shooter challenges between students and staff. Those involved a lot of running around, talking, and having fun. Younger participants particularly enjoyed sitting in the shade and having a story read to them. Older students gravitated to nature walks and relay games, and “I think they all enjoy just being together,” says Director Paribello. It also turns out being outdoors under tents is a great way to expand the program’s physical space.
This version of the Adventure Summer Program received such positive feedback that families asked if this type of programming could continue into the fall, particularly in conjunction with remote learning. In response, Community Schools and Somerville Parks and Recreation Department are currently developing an afterschool program that the two departments will host in partnership. Visit the Back to School 2020 webpage to find out how this program evolves and how students can get involved.
R. Ronen, Communications Specialist