After a long year of isolation and virtual interactions, this summer marked the first time that we were able to provide our programming with our student and volunteer tutors in the same room since March 2020! The pandemic has presented countless challenges, including exacerbating existing inequalities in education and widening the achievement gap for students impacted by homelessness.

As we prepare for the 2021-22 school year, we’re determined to address student learning recovery to help our students get back on track. Our five-week in-person summer enrichment program for students living at Salvation Army Barton Center is just one of the many ways we’re helping students and their families stay engaged with academics this year.

Students ranging from Pre-K to ninth grade had a blast learning all about robotics with the help of their tutors, our staff members, and various visiting instructors who helped make this summer so much fun. Kids were broken into small groups based on grade level to help tailor activities and lessons to their specific needs and abilities.

Each day of the summer program was jam packed with engaging and fun curriculum to help students build and strengthen grade-level skills. Beyond completing reading, writing, and math activities centered around robots with their tutors, students also participated in art, robotics, and theatre lessons!

On Mondays, Westfield High School Art Teacher Sydney Bartel spent time conducting art lessons in which students created all sorts of cool robot-based drawings, Play-Doh molded robots, and more. From the youngest to the oldest, students loved letting their creative side shine through.

On Wednesdays, IPS teachers David Petty and Genevieve McLeish Petty taught our students all about robotics. Each week held something new, from creating short coding sequences that tell robots how to move on paper and iPads to showing students different types of robots to duking it out in a BattleBots-style competition on the last day!

Asante Children’s Theatre Teaching Artist Ennis spent Mondays and Wednesdays at Salvation Army Barton Center every week. He helped each student develop their storytelling, listening, and acting skills by working with them to create their own story centered around a robot character. On the last day of our summer program, each student presented their story to their peers and got to showcase their hard work from the past five weeks!

Finally, Rose-Human Professor Dr. Carlotta Berry took time out of her busy schedule to hop on a Zoom call with our oldest students to teach them about the importance of robotics, what types of careers are available in the field, and how she is working toward diversifying the field to include more women and people of color. After her presentation, students got the chance to ask questions and learn even more, such as what robots might be capable of in the future and some of the issues we face with using robots for certain tasks.

In addition to developing and strengthening all sorts of education-based skills, our Pre-K – 1st grade students also worked on building some of the early skills that they were not able to work on in group settings during the last 15 months as a result of extended out-of-school time, such as listening, following instructions, and staying focused in an academic setting. These skills are critical to helping students stay engaged and on-task so they can work toward achieving academic success!

We’re thrilled we were able to provide face-to-face programming to students at Salvation Army Barton Center this summer as we work our way toward resuming more normal programming. We loved seeing our students and tutors interact and form those special connections yet again. Now we’re setting our sights on the 2021-22 school year and can’t wait to see our students and their families get back on track.

Are you interested in making a difference in the lives of students impacted by homelessness? Apply to be a Fall 2021 volunteer today!