Summer My Way program to kick off Monday

NILES — The Summer My Way program is set to kick off on Monday for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The partnership between the Niles-Buchanan YMCA and Niles Community Schools creates the program to provide both childcare for students through the summer, but also to provide valuable learning opportunities to keep them engaged.

This year poses different challenges than in the past, with COVID-19 mandates in Michigan closing schools mid-March, social challenges as well as learning deficits are something the program’s leaders are looking out for.

“We’ve found that with children with different risk factors identified by the [Niles Community School] district, they maintained or grew unlike some of their peers with similar risk factors who didn’t attend [Summer My Way],” said Executive Director of Youth Programs Zech Hoyt. “We’ve had really good results keeping those kids’ brains engaged. The challenge this time is that they have not necessarily been in that environment for many months.”

Without the social structure and educational methods students and teachers are used to working under, Hoyt hopes children enrolled in the program will come back to the schedule naturally.

The program usually sees between 250 to 300 children each year.

“What we did this year, as obviously everyone has to do, is learn how to navigate what’s going on,” Hoyt said. “We decided three to four weeks ago that we were willing to go down a path and really reduce the number, and still take the kids who were identified with certain [learning] risk factors.”

The program has shifted in its offerings to the students, and will no longer provide bussing to and from the facility at Northside Elementary School. Students will be screened as they are dropped off outside. New portions of the program will be implemented on the first day, including education about keeping a safe distance from others and wearing a mask.

In other childcare programs, Hoyt said the YMCA of Greater Michiana has been doing much of the same education with the younger children in its care programs.

“We’ve been doing it with our infants and toddlers. We’re trying to teach distance,” Hoyt said. “We are blessed to have the facilities we will be working in. The air turnover in those facilities is really good, so that’s a blessing in light of [COVID-19] being an airborne, communicable disease.”

The Summer My Way program will still aim to engage the students in physical activities, exploration activities and engaging activities in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) spaces.

For information in enrolling a student in the program, the Niles-Buchanan YMCA’s webpage has contact information listed.

“We’re going to continue giving them opportunities. It’s just going to be a reduced number because we want to do it safely,” Hoyt said. “It’s going to be a learning curve for us all.”

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