“What are you swinging away from? What are you swinging toward?”
Incoming ninth graders hear these questions during our summer leadership camp ropes course, as they are pulled up by their peers until they are suspended high amongst the trees. Each student shouts answers when they are ready to take the leap and swing across an open field. Their answers are a culmination of days of reflection on limiting beliefs and habits that have held them back, and public declarations of their goals as they embark upon their high school journey.
Since March of 2020, we have had to constantly innovate to meet the needs of our students and families. Last school year we started to bring some normalcy back. Now, we are swinging away from many of the hardships that COVID-19 has brought to our community. We are swinging toward the return of cherished traditions and new opportunities.
The pre-ninth grade leadership camp is a foundational experience of Step Up. During camp, Step Up Advocates challenge youth to identify their aspirations and commit to working together towards those goals. Due to COVID-19, camp was either canceled or shortened for the last two years. This past summer, Franklin, McDaniel, and Roosevelt incoming ninth graders got to experience our camp.
At camp, the emotional became physical when students pushed themselves past their comfort zone via ropes courses. On one ropes course, a student found himself stuck in place at the top of a tree. The next step was to walk across ropes connected from that tree to the next, with a harness of course. At first, he could not picture himself letting go of the tree. However, after taking a moment to recenter and receiving encouragement from his group, he was able to step up and step forward.
The magic of Step Up’s camp is the journey that students go on – swinging away from self-doubt and toward self-encouragement. As their Advocates facilitate them through this process, the trust and shared experiences they build with one another facilitate the growth of their relationships throughout the school year.
As incoming Step Up ninth graders attended camp, Open School East Summer School students swung toward getting on track to graduate. Students experienced in-depth one-on-one time with our principal, teachers, Advocates, and one another. They also took a cooking class and catered lunch everyday with such pride.
This summer served as a transitionary period akin to the journey one takes after swinging away and before swinging toward. Summer school allowed us the time to explore new opportunities for the next school year. The summer cooking class was such a success that we now have a Culinary and Nutrition class all year long, in addition to other new courses such as Film Studies and Latinx Studies.
This is the first year since COVID-19 that students are attending full-time in-person school so we wanted to make it a positive transition. Students began their first day of school with breakfast outside and a reunion among friends and Advocates. The cherished reunions, excitement over new courses, and the introduction of a new library all help us create an environment where students want to be engaged.
This year, let’s swing away from distanced learning and canceled camps toward returning traditions and emerging programming! Thank you for going on this journey with us.