Jul 31Camp Mercy: Virtual Summer Programming
The coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed the structure of classroom-based learning. With California’s shelter-in-place ordinances and school closures statewide, many students are missing out on vital social aspects of school that help to promote learning and the development of healthy social bonds. Families are experiencing what has been coined ‘COVID slide,’ a 30% or greater reduction in learning compared to the typical school year. That can have a ripple effect at home – students are falling behind academically, daily routines are inconsistent, which in turn causes caregiver stress and burnout. All these conditions have had a disproportionately negative impact on the diverse, low-income youth who live in Mercy Housing’s communities. Young learners need excitement and joy in their educations, but uncertainty persists while parents need support in re-integrating structure in their homes.
To actively address these issues, Mercy Housing California launched Camp Mercy (@MercyHousingLearning) in July, a four-week-long interactive, virtual summer program for students from 1st to 10th grades. Incorporating live check-in times with our Resident Services staff, STEM-focused, project-based learning, and larger student-wide virtual gatherings, Camp Mercy is an enriching, community-building program for students’ varying needs and developmental levels.
What allowed us to take Camp Mercy from concept to reality is the support of our donors. Thanks to a very generous anonymous donation, no registered Camp Mercy student was without the necessary materials, supplies, or tech to participate. Additionally, Arik Armstead of the San Francisco 49ers, in partnership with Bayside Church in Sacramento, donated hundreds of Chromebooks, Internet hotspots, and school supplies to Mercy Housing families. “I gave to Mercy because I wanted to partner with them to try to provide opportunities, hope, a better environment for students … in low-income areas and Title I schools,” remarked the 49er and founder of The Arik Armstead Academic Project as he helped distribute Chromebooks and supplies to families.
This opportunity for home-based learning gave students the fun, creative outlet they needed while providing caregivers with extra time, space, and new ways to connect with young learners. Let’s take a closer look at what a typical week at Camp Mercy looked like for a first-grade student.
The lesson for the week focused on the life cycle of a butterfly. On Monday, the student received a call from her Resident Services Coordinator to remind her that Camp Mercy started the following morning, with the lesson information to participate sent via email. Prior to this, Mercy Resident Services staff distributed a supply kit to use for hands-on learning activities. On Tuesday, the student logged on at the appointed time and jumped into a group lesson explaining each of the four phases of the butterfly lifecycle with video clips and pictures, allowing time for questions, answers, and group discussion. Wednesday consisted of a check-in with Camp Leaders (onsite Resident Services staff) followed by a continuation of the prior day’s group lesson, with more information about the role of butterflies in nature as well as games, quizzes, and storytelling that helped reinforce what the student learned the previous day. On Thursday, the student attended another group session to work on a hands-on art activity about butterflies and shared what she learned so far. At the end of the week, students participated in a cohort-wide virtual gathering for community building and enrichment activities to tie the week’s lesson together.
Camp Mercy kicked off on July 7, with 300 students registered in over 40 affordable housing communities across California. The first week focused on community building and intention setting as students thought about what they hoped to accomplish in the coming weeks of Camp Mercy. Mercy Housing was excited to help rebuild a sense of normalcy for families who have been affected by the pandemic. Mercy Housing staff are working on a similar virtual program to support families and youth with distance learning this fall.
For educational resources and photos follow Camp Mercy on Instagram at @MercyHousingLearning. Additionally, each week’s curriculum videos were posted every Monday on Camp Mercy’s YouTube page: