There is a lot of uncertainty around what this summer holds for out-of-school experiences, yet one thing is clear: its values are immense and planning for summer camps and classes should emphasize accessibility and affordability across the board whether virtually or safely in person. 

Prior to COVID-19, it was hard for many families to afford and find summer activities for their children. Now, COVID-19 has made fewer options available and family budgets tighter as well as making it more difficult for providers to offer valuable and safe learning opportunities for youth. 

We have an opportunity right now to recognize a broad ecosystem of learning that includes both in- and out-of-school experiences in dynamic and more diverse ways. It’s time to put deep intentional investments into community-centered black, indigenous and people of color learning providers. 

Selamawit Gebre

In 2020, prior to the pandemic, RESCHOOL, a Colorado non-profit creating more equitable, expansive education systems, conducted a study with the OMNI Institute in which nearly half of participants surveyed reported difficulties in finding affordable summer programs and a quarter of participants reported spending more than they could afford on out-of-school learning. 

Furthermore, RESCHOOL and its partners at the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) found in 2019 that 50% of available summer programs in the Denver Metro Area for kids over 5 years old cost more per hour than the minimum hourly wage, highlighting the difficult tradeoffs that some working-class families have to consider. 

Black, indigenous and people of color communities (BIPOC) have always leaned heavily into community assets and have always created programs that are cost conscious, community centered and community designed. 

In the case of out-of-school programming, it is critical that these programs are supported in order to survive and adapt to this current pandemic and beyond. BIPOC-founded Denver organizations such as In Lak’ech Denver Arts and Remembrance Wellness Yoga offer free to low-cost programming that is directly tied to co-designed community desires, and there should be greater investments in providers like them who cultivate deep spaces of collective care, cultural affirmation and wholeness. 

When we have more providers that offer opportunities that intersect kids’ lives in these ways, we will see more positive impacts on a child’s life and community. 

Supporting out-of-school providers must include honoring the wisdom and talents of black, indigenous and people of color providers intentionally as resourcing these organizations is an investment in the communities themselves at large. 

These out-of-school providers introduce a variety of opportunities and potential career fields and model a plethora of roles and positions for black, indigenous and youth of color. Furthermore, parents want affordable out-of-school programming they can trust and a diversity of experiences their children can participate in.

In running Blueprint4SummerCO, an online platform that gathers an array of out-of-school learning experiences in one place, RESCHOOL has been able to learn more about the disparities in the out-of-school landscape and has invested in BIPOC and community-based providers such as SCD Enrichment and CHIC Denver as a result. 

In addition, RESCHOOL is part of a collective that has created The Education Innovation Fund to further invest in creative and responsive learning opportunities, especially in light of COVID-19. 

Colorado needs to support and invest in the ecosystem of out-of-school providers who are creating valuable experiences for youth and families in and out of school. Many out-of-school providers are entrepreneurs who are putting their life’s work into creating learning opportunities for youth and their families that tie in their larger mission of giving back to the communities in which they come from and provide valuable services. 

For example, Remembrance Wellness Yoga, founded by Kinyata Fulton, focuses on family health and wellness through movement and is rooted in a collective learning that is bound with community healing in Northeast Denver.

If we value the learning that happens outside of school, which comprises 80% of young people’s waking hours, we need to invest in the people who are making this learning happen and invest in making this learning affordable and equitable across the board. 

Colorado needs to invest in making out-of-school opportunities for families affordable across a spectrum of identities, with a particular and direct emphasis on supporting opportunities that are created and led by black, indigenous and people of color providers. 

We see a need for a more equitable, expansive education system that includes learning within and beyond school and that continues into the months beyond summer. Investing in out-of-school learning can be an act of community care and must support a diverse array of providers as they adapt to life during this pandemic and beyond. 

Selamawit Gebre leads out-of-school and summer learning work at ReSchool Colorado. 

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