Constant noise and loud activity are a regular part of my Care Fresno experience. My thin apartment walls allow conversations from the surrounding apartments to wander into mine, along with noise from traffic and passerbyers outside. From my apartment, I often hear helicopters, trains, and sirens. Urban living has a distinct sound to it. For many of my kids, there are several siblings and multiple generations of family members living in their home. Additionally, due to a variety of other factors, some of my kids have chaotic home lives. Kids walk into Care Fresno neighborhood programs with all of these environmental influences affecting them. This can lead to a loud and chaotic program day as well as a unique opportunity to provide a calm and distinctly different type of environment.
This year’s Summer Program began the week of June 25 and ran through July 27. There is a tight schedule that consists of the following: snacks with journaling and an emoji check-in; rotations of math, reading, and writing; outside activity or a circle time based on the restorative justice model; mindfulness; Bible devotional; and enrichment, all within a two hour timeframe. Our rotation activities were made possible through generous donations and partnerships. Essentials in Writing has allowed us the use of their curriculum for our youth to practice language arts skills. Through a generous grant from the Fansler Foundation, we were able to purchase Chromebooks for every site so that our kids can use computer learning programs while gaining computer literacy skills in an increasingly technological world. Ilearn has partnered with us and made their software available for our kids to develop their math skills. We are also able to use the computers to access Headspace, a meditation app that has partnered with us in our efforts of making calming activities a regular part of our kids’ days. It is special to see how various niches of needs that other organizations fill can work together to better serve our community together.
Unlike After School Program, when kids arrive at Summer Program, they have not been sitting in school all day and they are not arriving with pages of homework. Their minds are fresh and eager to learn. Going into Summer Program, I was skeptical that our kids would fully engage with each of the activities we had planned for them. While there were some kids who struggled with various rotations, overall, I was pleasantly surprised that the kids at my site wanted to do each of the academic rotations. Because iLearn and Essentials in Writing start with basic skills and get progressively more difficult, the kids have been excited to find the work easy and receive initial high scores, encouraging them to continue working with the goal of getting them closer to their correct grade level. We received some donated books and they have enjoyed reading with a leader. They have also been excited to participate in the enrichment activities, which have included themes such as science, art, and other cultures. Through all of these activities, we hope to combat summer learning loss by keeping kids learning and growing in their academic skills throughout the summer.
I have been most impressed by our kids’ appreciation of quiet time. We introduced a mindfulness time with quiet activities during the academic year’s After School Program, but during Summer Program, with a new program routine, the kids at my site got especially excited to participate in mindfulness time. For five minutes each day, we had quiet time where the kids could use Headspace, color, do yoga, or partake in another calming activity option. I found that the kids at my site craved that quiet time. Some days, even when we moved to the next activity, our kids would remain quiet without us asking them to do so. Those instances thoroughly surprised me, but considering how they are constantly surrounded by noise, I now recognize quiet time as a precious anomaly. Sometimes, when we had trouble with kids listening to instructions for a new activity or needed to give some extra attention to a kid who was getting frustrated or acting out, we walked the kids through a calming activity such as regulated breathing or a yoga stretch. These calming activities have given our kids resources they can use to create a calm moment and self-regulate when things feel scary or chaotic. This allows them to re-focus and re-center so they can respond to situations in healthy ways.
My experience with Summer Program this year has challenged my ideas of what I think my kids need and want. My kids want to learn, despite the messages that say they are behind academically and will never be able to catch up. My kids want a calm environment, even when they create disruptions. They want the tools to be able to respond well and they crave an alternative model of responding to situations from what they have experienced elsewhere. I’m looking forward to continuing to implement mindfulness time with calming activities in the fall for After School Program and I appreciate how Care Fresno is intentional about providing youth with emotional and mental resources in addition to academic and spiritual resources.