Summer My Way partner luncheon takes place during nature week

NILES — In a room with both civilians and superheroes, each one looks down at papers in front of them. A blank butterfly outline is awaiting a splash of color. A few heroes start choosing their paints, from greens, yellows, blues and reds, and each butterfly starts to take on life.

A voice breaks the concentration, asking about a missing birdfeeder.

It’s nature week at the Summer My Way program, hosted at Northside Child Development Center at 2020 N. Fifth St. The civilians and superheroes are a mix of kindergarten students. On top of it being “nature week” in the program, Wednesday was also “superhero day,” where students could come to class dressed as their favorite superhero. Characters ranging from Batman to The Incredibles created beautiful butterflies at their designated desks.

Their teacher, Kammy Scally, breaks the chatter of the room by reminding the students to keep a social distance and not to share their supplies between tables.

This year’s program has included layers of protection, and helping to educate the children on how to keep their hands washed and sanitized. According to Scally, when the students are in the hall, she reminds them to stay apart by putting their arms out in front of them. If they can touch another student, they are too close.
Nature week has allowed the students more outdoors time.

“We had them go outside and see what they could think they see in the clouds, and then they were supposed to make up what they saw in the clouds with cotton balls [glued on paper],” Scally said.

Another activity had the students gathering elements from around the school grounds to make a portrait with natural materials like grass and acorns.

“This afternoon, we’re doing coffee filter butterflies. We did bird feeders earlier, so we’re going to go out and hang those up for the birds,” Scally said.

In the kindergarten room, each student has a table with one other student. The table has supplies for them to complete their activities, and toys scattered around it for them to play with. Each table has its own set of toys, Scally said. At the end of the day, the toys are all washed with soap and water and set out to dry. They are sanitized and cleaned before the next morning, where the bins can be rotated between the tables, so the students have a variety to play with through the week at Summer My Way.

The students are excited to show off their work to one another and their teachers. Scally gives them reminders if the students forget not to play with the toys at another table, and they quickly remember to keep to their own bin for the day.

Down the hall, about 15 adults stood, spread out in a circle in an activity room just inside of Northside Childhood Development Center. These adults represented some of the community partners sponsoring the 2020 Summer My Way program with the Niles-Buchanan YMCA.

The annual community partner luncheon they were attending looked different than in years past, due to the space between everyone in attendance. Before entering the building, everyone answered a survey about their current symptoms and had their temperatures taken, the same way the students are greeted each morning as they are dropped off for the program.

Standing, 6 feet apart, the representatives of each sponsor introduced themselves. They came ready to see what the program looked like in its seventh year amidst COVID-19 concerns.

As the attendees went around the circle and introduced themselves to one another, connections to the program and addressing the unique challenges of this year’s Summer My Way were a main topic.

“[The program facilitators] have worked hard to make sure the kids are safe and to make sure to provide them with enrichment activities during the summer months, which is powerful,” said Mark Weber, chief executive officer of the YMCA of Southwest Michigan. “I can’t thank the schools enough because I know that you guys have made sure the kids are safe.”

Niles Community Schools assistant superintendent Donna Roarke, a partner with the program, thanked the YMCA for continuing the program.

“[We want] to thank the YMCA for continuing our partnership, for the benefits of our kids. We’ve worked hard to make sure we have something to offer,” Roarke said.

Zech Hoyt, the director of childhood development with the YMCA of Greater Michiana, informed everyone in attendance about how students were wearing masks as they moved between rooms in common areas, but did not have to wear a mask once they were in their own classrooms.

The youth director of the YMCA of Greater Michiana, Nicole Mireles, a big part of making the program happen was building confidence with the parents on the YMCA’s ability to put on a safe program.

“This year, we are limiting one staff member to 10 kids in a group,” Mireles said. “They stay with the same group all day long, all camp long. So, they’re not rotating through.”

The social distancing and sanitizing measures have been taught around the students’ favorite activities.

“One thing we know, schools are mentioning kids will be wearing masks in the hallways, so we were talking to staff today and we will start implementing that habit to help kids get used to that as they transition back to school,” Mireles said. “Hopefully, they can start going through that routine and understand that its OK and they can be comfortable.”


Music for the video: “Little Idea” from

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