Every year, our Youth Program and all of our staff look forward to Summer Camp! Our typical Summer Camp creates an enriching, entertaining experience that helps children of immigrants experience St. Louis landmarks (City Museum, anyone?). Yet with the school year interrupted by the pandemic, staff knew kids needed to focus on their academics to be on track for the next grade level.
Matt Roberts, Youth Program Tutoring Coordinator, said, “A huge part of our program is bridging academic barriers alongside families. The pandemic illuminates the massive educational disparities in our city – like who has access to the internet, a computer at home, or a parent who can help with homework – and for a lot of kids those aren’t the reality. None of those barriers reflect a kids’ educational goals or potential, and it is our goal to ensure their educational outcomes are not determined by them, either.”
When the pandemic first arrived to St. Louis, staff contacted each family to understand their circumstances – and they found less than 50% of families had an internet connection at home or had a device they could use for school. Staff worked with families to find solutions and troubleshoot: whether through school, phone calls, or advocating with the internet company. By early April, everyone was connected to the internet and had a device to use.
So when Summer Camp began, kids were ready! Through an online program that tracks their progress, kids read and watched educational videos, and staff checked in to offer motivation, help, and general fun. While it wasn’t the same, kids really enjoyed having something to look forward to during the day. And they are voracious readers – the 50 kids who signed up for summer camp completed a total of 655 books and read for a total of 110 hours over the four weeks they were involved in camp!
Karina Skrbec, Youth Program Coordinator, writes “I’m really very proud of the way the whole team – our kids, parents, and staff – have adapted to these new circumstances. In this unprecedented crisis we developed a plan to be proactive, and each part of the team was flexible to ensure kids in the program are supported and growing in uncertain times.”
The St. Francis Community Services Youth Program provides children of immigrant families services tailored to their particular needs. Throughout the school year, the Youth Program’s goal is to breach the academic achievement gap by providing students the support that they otherwise cannot get at home. The compassionate and bilingual staff, alongside reliable and loyal volunteers help students with homework, reading, while always creating a setting where students feel safe, loved, and respected. Throughout the year, the Youth Program also offers a diverse set of activities, like art and music, where students can explore and grow other skills.