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Sep 26, 2021 Conversation COVID-19 Planning EXPLO Summer Programs

The Show Must Go On: Running Our Summer Program During COVID-19

In the midst of a global pandemic, our leadership, staff, and families decided that the show must go on — and what a performance it turned out to be.

Abby Leigh Curtis

It was a summer unlike any other. Despite COVID-19 pressing on, our leadership, staff, and families decided that the show must go on — and what a performance it turned out to be. Read on to find out how it all came together.

Behind the scenes

Here at EXPLO, there was nothing more appealing to us than running our summer programs live, on campus, and in person once again. Doing so safely was our highest priority; so thorough planning was paramount. With that in mind, we assembled our COVID Task Force. 

We asked ourselves: How do we keep our community safe while continuing to provide the enriching environment that our students have grown to know and love? 

It took months of planning, but all of our strategic health and safety measures opened the door to a safe, fabulous summer for our students — with all of the same wonder and academic rigor that makes a summer at EXPLO one-of-a-kind.

It's showtime

At EXPLO, “opening night” is arrival day. This year, June 27th marked the start of Session One across all three of our programs. It was on arrival day that our Programs staff began observing the students buzzing with a new variety of excitement and anticipation.

“These kids were craving interactions with their peers — especially the adolescent group,” said Elliot Targum, Program Head for our 8th–10th graders. “I have never in my [decades-long] career seen kids glom onto each other, connect with each other, and trust each other so quickly...I’m talking in the first 24 hours of the program,” he shared. 

“The kids were magnetically pulled to one another. They had been missing that physical proximity, the feeling of physical and emotional closeness,” said David Torcoletti, Head of the Grades 4-7 Program. “COVID was a social and emotional desert. EXPLO was a cool drink of water.”

Disconnecting + reconnecting 

In years past, our 10-12th graders needed structured time to “unplug” from their phones and devices — but not this year, said Andy Smith, Program Head for our Pre-College + Career group. “Kids were happy to put their phones down and enjoy the present moment,” he said. They were visibly eager to connect with one another. They were intently focused on what was going on around them. They listened attentively to their instructors. They were eager to make connections. They were full of exuberance. 

Andy shared: “In the classroom, one thing that was clear was that everyone was taking advantage of being in the same space...connections were being made — not only socially, but between teachers and learners.” The ability to participate in hands-on, physical manipulation work in their Concentrations was paramount to students’ engagement (and excitement). And after so long without these visceral learning experiences, it was more significant, impactful, and memorable than ever.

 “COVID was a social and emotional desert. EXPLO was a cool drink of water.”

“During virtual learning, there was so much awkwardness; in part because of the lack of the social setting of school, which made any group work or collaboration very difficult,” Andy remarked. With that came an excess of anxiety. Some students were experiencing low points in the months or even weeks before they came to EXPLO — and there was an apparent collective climax of feeling isolated, frustrated, and fatigued. 

With that collective experience, however, came a higher degree of awareness and empathy on campus. The experience they all shared — the COVID experience — even transcended age groups. “Most summers, kids just say their goodbyes to students in their own grade level. But this year, we witnessed older students reaching out to younger students for a hug, and even younger students comforting the 7th-grade students who were graduating from the program,” said Maddie Sabin, Program Manager for EXPLO Grades 4-7. “It was incredibly touching to see the way these students had bonded with each other as a community...it felt like one of the closest-knit groups I've seen in my time at the Junior program.”

A new normal

There has been much ado about kids wearing masks, but EXPLO kids didn’t mind masking one bit — as long as they got to laugh and learn together again.

“One thing that struck me about the summer was how similar it felt to our "normal" summers, despite all the changes we made to keep our students safe in the midst of the pandemic,” Maddie said. “For example, we replaced the traditional kickline in the Numa with one-person 'socially distanced' lines, but students still danced their hearts out (and, it seemed, in higher proportions than in the past few summers).”

Maddie echoed the same sentiment as her colleagues: “I think students were so hungry for those in-person interactions, they were more willing than normal to dive into the whimsical world we establish on campus.”

Curtain call

As the end of our Summer Programs neared, we all held our breath. Fortunately, we succeeded in hosting a summer program — during an ongoing pandemic — without a single case of COVID-19. The sound of our collective sigh of relief echoed through the halls of our three campuses.

Looking back at our successful, zero-case summer, it is abundantly clear that our success was due to the community’s commitment to the common good. Because we all worked together as a team to prioritize the health and safety of the EXPLO community at large, we were able to run an in-person program that was deeply engaging and refreshing.

We hope to never run a summer program during a pandemic again. But if the world demands an encore, we will rise to the occasion. 

All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts.

THE SEVEN AGES OF MAN

Abby Leigh Curtis

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