KANSAS CITY, Mo. — YMCA of Greater Kansas City is operating its SPARK program from three locations this summer – Kansas City, Kansas; Linwood and Red Bridge Elementary School. The academic summer camps aim to help students catch up after falling behind during remote learning.
The SPARK program has been offered to families in need for seven years through grants. But Program Director Royccie Jackson said the need and demand for this kind of academic camp spiked due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There currently is a waiting list of students who want to be enrolled, after all 60 openings were filled.
Rachelle Hamrick, Red Bridge Elementary School principal, hand-picked the students who needed the most help at the end of the school year. Parents hope to prevent the “summer slide,” which often refers to the decline in academic skills during summer months.
“I got three boys,” father Chris Bohatyritz said. “When we moved to all virtual, it was very challenging for my sons. My middle son was actually failing in remote, and now that we’re back in school, he’s got an A.”
Bohatyritz said it was a sigh of relief to receive help from the SPARK staff. He decided staying home was easier than juggling his new business during a pandemic. And as his children get back in the swing of academics, he hopes he can get back on his feet as well.
“Knowing that they have a place where they’re loved, and not just dropped off at, and they know their names, and they know their stories is a weight off the shoulders," Bohatyritz said. "You can really go into the next season of life getting out of this pandemic.”
Licensed teachers are in the classrooms Monday through Thursday and build their own curriculums around reading, writing, physical activity and play. Jackson said that, year after year, she sees how important this is.
“The socialization I feel like is underrated,” Jackson said. “The interactions, being able to make friends, being able to deal with difficult situations, being able to rely on other people when parents aren’t there.”
Jackson recalled having to make the choice between emotional well-being and academics in her own house, too.
“We went from almost straight ‘A’ student to ‘D’ here, ‘C’ there,” Jackson said. “It was very difficult to watch her struggle.”
Senior District Program Director Savanah Standifer said the YMCA was intentional about serving the families of the school district. Oftentimes, the families in the area struggle with the economics of the community and their ability to access quality programs.
Jackson said it is a breath of fresh air for many parents.
“They were just trying to see if they can keep their jobs and keep their children safe," Jackson said.