As state rates of infection fall and businesses begin the process of phased reopening, many are experiencing a sense of relief and hope for the first time in months. But amid this optimism, questions remain. For families with young children, especially for those in which parents are unable to work from home or in which extended family members are not available to provide childcare support, the questions of if, and when, summer programs will operate, and how safe they will be if they do open, remain some of the most pressing considerations.
Nationally, some communities plan to open programs for children and youth this summer, but these programs will be complex to implement, as the need to follow safety protocols will require additional resources and will be difficult to prepare for by the time summer programs are slated to start. According to the CDC guidance for summer programs for youth and children, recommendations include extensive hygiene practices, symptom monitoring, reduced program group size, staggered schedules and limited group mixing. These recommendations, together with local state requirements, which in New Mexico require face masks and social distancing, are necessary for keeping children safe but can be difficult to enforce, especially in younger age groups, and add challenges to preparation for, and delivery of, safe programs.
Those states or localities that are offering summer youth programs are generally doing so with greatly reduced numbers, often operating at one tenth of their normal capacity. Others are opting to increase safety precautions even more by placing additional restrictions on transportation to and from the program, in order to further limit exposure and contagion through mixing with broader populations. All these adjustments, which require additional staff and equipment while decreasing program revenues, require substantial sources of funding which may not be readily available.
In New Mexico, some summer programs, such as Albuquerque Public School's Summer Learning Adventure and Elementary K5+ Programming, have decided to close, while others will offer online, distance–learning, based options only. In San Miguel County, most summer programs for youth and children, such as those offered by city recreation centers and local school districts, are still in the process of being decided, as leaders weigh the relative risks and benefits of in-person programming, and assess their ability to meet all safety guidelines and support the increased expense of doing so in time for a rapidly approaching summer session.
The New Mexico Out of School Time Network provides excellent resources, frameworks, and options for considering these issues, including a recording of a recent panel discussion on Best Practices and Contingency Planning for Summer 2020, especially useful for administrators who are currently making these complicated choices. Additional resources include Educational Activities from Home and Support for Teachers and Administrators.
While options for summer programs this year may remain limited, consideration of these challenges is an important step in determining how schools might open next fall, even on a partial basis.
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