Be Flexible! Ways to Provide Quality Summer Experiences for VT Youth

The uncertainty that looms over our head, lost opportunities, canceled events, physical isolation, career setbacks, and physical, mental, and economic hardships caused by the global pandemic has affected us all. The primary focus for many of us has been all about safety. We are all trying our best to keep all parts of our lives together and hope for better days to come.

Our youth are not spared from the effects of the global pandemic either. They have their classes canceled, moved to virtual learning, missed out on the sports season and the third-space programs of their interests, and most importantly, missed out on the opportunities to connect with their friends and build their social-emotional skills in addition to the academic skills.

Without any doubt, we need to support our youth in gaining those skills and summer provides us with that opportunity.

Summer is the time to shine. This is an extraordinary opportunity to provide students with quality social-emotional and academic support this summer to help our youth come out stronger than ever. We must do what we can to increase youth’s sense of belonging, safety and support them in connecting with their peers and other adults.

Flexibility should be our mantra as we work together to create a healthy, safe, equitable, and enriching environment for our programs.

Please consider the following to ensure we are meeting the needs of the families and youth we serve:

  1. The enrollment procedure and the registration form should be quick and easy to follow. We must ensure our families know when and where to register their children. Allowing parents to cancel their registration for unforeseen reasons and flexibility with scheduling (half-day vs. full day) is necessary to increase participation while addressing the needs of the families.
  2. As mentioned above, youth have been through a lot just like adults have. Thus, it is essential for us to ensure we see behaviors as multidimensional and ask, “What else can this be?” instead of jumping to a quick conclusion. Creating a safe and healing-centric “calming” area is important for students who need a quiet space and the time to self-regulation.
  3. Make accommodations for students with special needs, including those who need help with translation and interpretation.
Strategies to Promote Social Emotional Well-being:
  1. Transition and Informal Time: The transition time should be used in building relationships with each other and building a supportive relationship. This can be done when students are transitioning into your programs by using icebreakers or activities to start a conversation. Some examples include:
    • What superpower would you choose and why?
    • What word would you add to the dictionary and what would it mean?
    • If you were to write a book, what would it be about?

The key to this informal time is to ensure physical, mental, and emotional adjustments in students, feel comfortable, and make meaningful connections among the students. It is equally important to set aside few minutes at the end where adult(s) remain accessible for students wanting to connect with adults without the pressure of having other students around. Transitioning out with a good conversation helps remind students that they matter, that it is okay to express their feelings and that they can always count on you if they need any support.

2. SAFE Strategy:

  • Support them in any way possible.
  • Actions are based on hope.
  • Faith- Have faith in students’ ability to initiate change, do better, and make a meaningful contribution towards programs’ success.
  • Express your feelings. Connect with them and let them know you are there for them.

3. Protect Tomorrow: If a child has a hard day, always give your best to repair the same day. Consequences should ALWAYS stay on the same day as a transgression or mistake. This way, you can say goodbye with easy hearts and minds and look forward to a fresh day together the following day or week. There is so much external stress right now, so your space needs to be a safe space for youth to process their feelings and emotions.

Most importantly, remember to take care of yourself and do not hesitate to ask for the help you need. Your health and well-being play a key role in your relationship with the youth in the program and your relationship with youth plays a crucial role in youth’s experience at your program.