NEWARK, NJ — This summer, even as quarantine restrictions slowly lift for residents, youth in Newark will likely not be making the same kind of memories they have in previous years.
With parents and students largely stuck at home since March, Newark’s more than 200 afterschool and summer programs have also been in limbo as they anticipate what the state will decide for their operations. On Wednesday, Gov. Phil Murphy said camps and programs should remain “hopeful” about whether they will be allowed to operate in-person, but many in Newark have already transitioned their services online.
That’s the way most programming should probably stay for the foreseeable future, according to Traymanesha Lamy, founding executive director of the nonprofit Newark Thrives, which created and oversees a network of the city’s afterschool and summer programs. The organization merged with United Way of Greater Newark this spring.
Regardless of state-level permissions, the trauma inflicted on Newark by COVID-19 is not one that residents, program providers or local officials will soon forget.
“We don’t really know enough about what’s going on, and I always err on the side of, ‘Let’s let them figure out what this is before we get too deep in a pool,” Lamy said. “Kids need to be somewhere safe this summer, and they need to be fed and well-kept. But they also need to be healthy.”
Especially with the emergence of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children who have tested positive for COVID-19, Lamy said preventing spread is the foremost concern for Newark Thrives’ stakeholders.
Right now, all Newark’s larger programs, including those that fall under Rutgers University-Newark, Afterschool Allstars, and NJ LEEP, are recruiting staff and youth for the summer. Newark Thrives will start connecting families with programs using a platform called Brazen in the coming weeks.
Mayor Ras Baraka said at Newark’s reopening and recovery press conference that public pools will remain closed, but officials would be thinking of creative ways to keep youth entertained through the summer months. The city’s Summer Youth Employment Program will be in operation, though it’s unclear how much will be in-person versus remote.
Newark Public Schools' Office of Expanded Learning Time, which offers more than a dozen programs, did not respond to comment for this story.
Boys and Girls Club of Newark, which typically serves 625 youth through its afterschool programs, has seen a reduction in youth enrolled in its programs, according to CEO Ameer Washington. Their offerings are more limited, too — this summer, there will be no swimming, meal program, child care or dental clinic available until further notice.
Their mental and behavioral health supports have been scaled back as well. As one of the largest providers in Newark with a variety of funding sources, institutions like the BGCN are stable for now. But like businesses, after school and summer programs are taking major financial hits due to COVID-19, and the smaller they are, the more they’re feeling the impact.
Catherine Wilson, President and CEO of United Way of Greater Newark, said the challenges hardly end when children return to school. Programs will have to develop safety protocols to keep their youth healthy, and that’s for the providers that survive the pandemic.
“Some of our smaller programs are going to struggle for a while,” Wilson said. “We know some programs have laid off and furloughed people. The economic challenges that this has presented are something no one foresaw.”
There is even more urgency this year to provide students, who also suffer summer learning loss, with academic summer options. While the impact of virtual learning on student outcomes remains to be seen, the disruption in traditional school time and routine will likely have lasting effects for many students.
Wilson said that this summer will be crucial catch-up time for students, many of whom still have not received Chromebooks. Education professionals expect the pandemic to see both educational attainment and longer-term economic consequences for students as a result of COVID-19.
“There is an achievement gap, some of our students are living in abject poverty and attending underperforming schools,” Wilson said. “That afterschool or summer program is providing opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have that their counterparts, who aren’t living in poverty, are getting anyway.”
And for some programs, like SHE Wins, a leadership program for girls affected by violence founded by Newark Board of Education member A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, an in-person connection is essential to operation. SHE Wins Summer Leadership Program, which enrolls about 50 girls every year, takes its members on a trip to Rutgers-Newark for a conference centered on leadership and social justice.
“We have to reenvision our programming entirely,” Murray-Thomas said. “This program, it’s an opportunity for the girls to see the world beyond Newark. It relies on the physical experience.”
For the time being, families should stay tuned for more information on what’s to come for their children this summer on the Newark Thrives website, as well as Arts Ed Newark. The Summer Youth Employment Program is accepting applications online now.
A full listing of programs that will be operating this summer will be available in mid-June, Lamy. said.