In honor of National Summer Learning Day, a team of SOWA staff joined State Representative Shelley Kloba from the 1st District, Megan McJennett from King County, and Ken Nsimbi from King County Housing Authority (KCHA) on July 12 to visit Best Starts for Kids-funded programs in action at Southwest Youth and Family Services’ (SWYFS) New Futures program.
One of hundreds of celebrations across the country, we saw firsthand the positive impact of high-quality summer learning in engaging youth in building new skills, discovering passions, and connecting with caring adults.
Our team of visitors observed some incredible activities run by Place-Based Collaborative partners SWYFS, Geeking Out Kids of Color (GOKiC), and Arts Corps. It was great to see the impact Best Starts for Kids funds have had on these programs doing such meaningful work in these South King County housing sites, where all of the youth participants are low-income, come from refugee and immigrant backgrounds, and face many barriers and challenges in today’s climate.
At the first site, we walked through the housing community and past a group of youth reading in the shade into the New Futures Center. The main room in the center was full of robots zipping across the floor, as the kids controlling them barely noticed a huge group of strange adults walk in—which is a testament to how engaged they were! Half of the young people were learning how to code on laptops, under the guidance of GOKiC, in preparation of actually constructing the robots.
In the middle of the room was a huge map of the area that the kids has painted previously, which highlighted several sites including the Duwamish River. The group had discussed the pollution in the river and how it affected their community, and crumpled up paper littered the map. There was also a table where recycled paper was drying—newspaper had been blended and pushed through a screen, and was awaiting its next use. The next session would be spent tying everything together and using the robots to pick the trash out of the river and then recycling it.
In a side room, a Girls Circle led by Southwest Youth & Family Services was discussing The Hate U Give, a young adult novel about the aftermath of racist police murder by Angie Thomas that is on the National Book Award Longlist. The participants were gracious enough to allow some of us visitors in the conversation, and wound up interviewing Representative Kloba.
At the second site, the New Futures Center had recently been remodeled with a new floor and a blue-green coat of paint. Youth were mostly outside, either playing on the large playground in the center of the housing community or eating snacks provided by the federal Summer Food Service Program. On the perimeter of the space were three raised garden beds sporting tomatoes, peppers, and leafy greens (SWYFS helped install raised beds at each of their three New Futures sites). When snack was over, youth went back inside and participated in an Arts Corps activity that involved creative writing about their identities and then incorporating that into movement-based art.
It was awesome to celebrate Summer Learning Day with programs supported through Best Starts for Kids, and for the young people to meet Representative Kloba and see that elected officials are also invested in supporting programs like these. King County’s young people are better for it.