It is now officially summer — schools are on break, the sun is high and bright, and COVID-19 has now been with us for almost six months and doesn’t look like it is going anywhere anytime soon.
The era of COVID-19 is unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes, and like many of you, Camp Fire has been adapting day by day to meet the needs of the youth and communities we serve. The whole country knew that the effects of COVID-19 would be tremendous for organizations and families — both financially and mentally/emotionally — but we were most concerned about the effects the pandemic would have on the young people in our programs and across the country.
America’s Promise Alliance conducted a national survey to better understand how young people themselves perceive the impact of COVID-19 on their learning and their lives. The results are deeply sobering.
- While nearly all of the high school youth surveyed (92%) say they are participating in online learning opportunities, more than three-quarters (78%) are spending four or fewer hours each day in class or working on assignments.
- Since their school buildings closed, young people’s levels of concern about the present and future have increased, and indicators of overall health and wellbeing have suffered. For example, 30% of young people say they have more often been feeling unhappy or depressed, and nearly as many say they are much more concerned than usual about having their basic needs met.
- More than one-quarter of students (29%) say they do not feel connected at all to school adults. A similar percentage do not feel connected to classmates or to their school community.
- [Read the full report HERE]
Overall, these findings suggest that students are experiencing a collective trauma, and that they and their families would benefit from immediate and ongoing support.
The findings in this survey are very troubling – and we are only seeing these results after roughly six months of the pandemic and quarantine. The long-term effects of this experience have yet to be seen, but we know they will be formidable. Organizations like Camp Fire are needed more than ever to help remedy the educational deficit young people are experiencing, as well as provide safe and stable spaces for youth to feel grounded and cared for.
Camp Fire does this in many ways — the most important being:
- Create an opportunity for youth to experience growth and support through developmental relationships because we know that safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and social connections are necessary to reduce stress.
- Provide programming online at many of our councils (including summer camps), as well as online resources for families to engage with each other at home with social distancing.
- Understand young people’s evolving concerns: Camp Fire adapted an “Emotional Check-in Guide” created by our friends at Boys & Girls Club of America to check in with staff and young people as they begin summer programs. The check-in allows for everyone to feel valued, heard, and supported. It promotes self-reflection by helping everyone think about what’s going well and what isn’t. And it allows staff to collect data they can act on — using it to shape programming and building relationships with staff, youth, and parents.
- Prioritize social and emotional wellbeing, including mental health: Our two guiding priorities for summer programming include promoting safety and providing positive supports. Our professional development efforts to prepare staff for summer programming focused specifically on strategies and best practices to create a physically and emotionally safe program space as well as focus on relationships and community building (with guidance from Weikart Center and Search Institute). We also compiled a list of vetted mental health resources and released that to our network to have on hand as in-person and virtual programming ramped back up.
- Strive towards equity: Camp Fire released an on-line course, “SEL in These Critical Times,” for practitioners to learn about the impact of stress and trauma from the pandemic as well as the disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups. Participants consider healing-centered practices to reduce COVID-19 related stress and build resilience.
The next few months are uncertain, but Camp Fire is here to stand with youth and families as we all navigate this new era. Thank you for walking with us to best support young people.