ECR Coworkers Bring Creativity to Summer Enrichment

ECR Coworkers Bring Creativity to Summer Enrichment

Summer is a fun-filled season for kids, and it is often a much-needed break from school. But there can be a downside to that time away from their education: learning loss. In fact, students lose an average of 2.5 months of skills in just one month of summer break. This can add up to a big deficit by the time the first school bell rings in the fall. But fortunately, Mercy Home has come up with a way to prevent learning loss for our kids, while still allowing them to have fun—summer enrichment.

“One critical goal of summer enrichment is to prevent summer learning loss,” Brittany Terrell, the director of education resources, said

Jaquan Grier, coordinator of post-secondary options, echoed Brittany’s statement, saying that summer enrichment helps give our kids an advantage they wouldn’t have were they not at Mercy Home.

He noted most of the young people we serve had fewer academic resources to keep them actively learning in between school years, which can cause them to fall behind. “[But] summer enrichment is that advantage that we can give our kids,” he said.

One critical goal of summer enrichment is to prevent summer learning loss.

Every weekday, our kids participate in two sessions: a morning session and afternoon session, with a break for lunch in the middle. To get the kids’ minds ready to learn, the day often begins with a warm-up activity, like mindfulness meditation, some stretches, or writing down things they are grateful for and sharing them to spread some positivity. Then each session explores an array of different topics.

“While our enrichment program at Mercy is focused on traditional academic enrichment such as math, science, and reading skills, I particularly enjoyed the diversity in activities at the West Loop Campus,” Brittany said.

These different topics are one way that summer enrichment differs from a typical school day. The kids were given the opportunity to explore more unusual topics like woodworking, discussions on current events and culture, and CSI-themed psychology classes, along with more typical school subjects like math, science, and reading. They also worked on professional and life skills like financial literacy, writing professional emails, and applying for apartments, to name a few.

Kelly Cochrane, senior coordinator of career resources, remembered a particularly fun activity the boys participated in with Justin Earls, another senior coordinator of career resources. Justin listed some current events going on, such as the civil unrest in Chicago or how COVID-19 is affecting the NBA’s season, and asked the boys to write a poem, rap, or some other form of creative writing to reflect on it.

“It was really fun [for the boys],” she said.

She also had the boys practice their interviewing skills with each other by doing mock interviews together and giving each other feedback. Jaquan allowed the boys to test out what they learned about financial literacy by participating in a life simulator event where they had play money and could make decisions with it.

In addition to learning, summer enrichment also gave the older kids the opportunity to practice socializing with and modeling good behavior for the younger boys.

“With me working with the older guys, I think it’s really good to remind them that they are role models for the other guys and really set that high expectation for them throughout our program,” Kelly said.

At the Walsh Campus, the girls also covered a variety of different topics like budgeting, current events, criminal justice, journalism, and creative writing. To make the sessions more engaging for the girls, the Education and Career Resources team tried to find different speakers to join in virtually and speak about their experiences on different topics. The girls were particularly interested in the coronavirus unit, and a doctor joined them to give some information on the virus and gave tips on how to stay healthy. They also watched documentaries on the subject to broaden their knowledge.

Another favorite activity among the girls was a podcast club, where the girls listened to different podcasts. They especially enjoyed NPR’s “Serial” podcast. In addition to activities that kept their minds strong, the girls also participated in physical activities, like a fitness club and basketball camp.

The ECR team running summer enrichment noted that in general, the kids were very engaged in the activities and eager to participate.

Morgan Kuhn, coordinator of education resources, organized a book club for the first month of the program. She was pleased to see a number of youth reading ahead. “The discussion points that they brought up on their own were really exciting to get the classroom going,” she said. “And it really motivated other youth to participate and to engage once they saw other youth getting into it, too.”

Suzanne Bush, coordinator of tutoring and after-school programs, agreed that the kids were especially engaged in learning this summer. She feels that some of this is due the focus on activity-based learning in the summer enrichment classes this year.

“The lessons were a bit more hands-on,” she said. “I think just the approach was different. The guys in years past saw it as summer school, and I think this time they saw it more as activities. That’s a huge shift.

“Actually, a few of the guys [asked], why can’t school be this type of learning? So I was like, okay, I’m doing something. I think that’s my approach, I also like to make learning innovative and engaging.”

Because of the pandemic and inability to use the Title I tutors who typically teach summer enrichment classes, the ECR department was forced to get a little creative this year to make sure that the kids were still receiving the same benefits. However, the need for creativity yielded some positive and unexpected benefits as well.

“I think it is so important to keep [the kids’] minds going and keep them thinking and building critical thinking skills,” Ashleigh Teasley, senior coordinator of education resources, said. “I think summer enrichment always does a good job of that, but particularly this go-around because we didn’t know what to expect. We kind of had to just dive into it and it built itself out. … I think this setup allowed us to think outside the box. I foresee us taking some of the things that we learned, some things we implemented this year into next year.”

Summer enrichment wrapped up at the West Loop Campus with an Olympics-themed event last week. The boys were put into teams and then did team-building activities like making posters, creating pinatas, and tie-dyeing shirts. Activities during the event included fun games like socially distanced races, a potato sack race, a water balloon toss, and an Olympic torch event, where the boys had to run carrying (brand new) plungers with ping pong balls balanced in them. The day finished with an awards ceremony and a movie night. It was a great and fun way to wrap up the program.

Thank you to our entire ECR department for putting together an engaging and educational summer enrichment program for our kids. Your work gives them a great boost to be successful in the upcoming school year!

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