OST Blog Series

OST Creates Space for Youth to Process Political Unrest, Navigate Virtual School
Episode #2 | Kid Power, Inc.

As part of our work with the newly formed DC OST Coalition, DC Action continues our blog series spotlighting out-of-school time programs. With it, we will create space to share the stories of voices that have been left out of the discussion about how to support virtual learning and provide for safe and healthy in-person learning for those who need access to it. 

Out-of-school-time organizations have long supported the District’s children and youth with academic and cultural enrichment, opportunities to explore and develop skills, in pursuing their passions, and as social and emotional safe havens. With school buildings closed for the past 10 months, however, many students haven’t been able to continue participating in the activities they love. 

OST programs effectively support students and families who need it most. As the effects of the coronavirus continue to plague the District, OST programs remain a critical lifeline, mitigating learning loss by supporting students during virtual learning and increasing student engagement. It is critical that the District include out-of-school time programs in plans for supporting our students and families.

Episode #2: Kid Power, Inc.
By Andria Tobin
Executive Director, Kid Power, Inc.

Kicking off 2021 comes with a deep sense of gratitude and optimism despite the hard realities surrounding us. At times, 2020 felt overwhelming, but we also witnessed the best of our DC community. Just a few weeks into the new year, young people in the District have already been faced with a violent political attack in their city, the unremitting stress of the pandemic, and the ongoing challenges of virtual learning. In light of this, the Kid Power, Inc. team and our community of partners have stood in support of one another and our young people in remarkable ways, enacting kindness, civility, and grace — even while remaining socially distant. 

Founded in 2002, Kid Power, Inc operates as the only expanded learning program offering a three-pronged approach dedicated to helping underserved students grow and become engaged leaders in their communities. We inspire youth leadership by promoting academic advancement, physical and emotional wellness, and positive civic engagement in underserved communities throughout the District of Columbia. During normal pre-pandemic operations, Kid Power provides daily afterschool programs to over 400 youth, summer programming to 125 youth, in-school health and wellness programs to over 1,000 youth, and a one-on-one community based mentoring program to 50 middle and high school youth — all free of charge.

While we may not know all of the short- and long-term effects of this pandemic, we do know the present magnitude of the growing challenges our young people must face. The loss of positive and secure relationships may erode student engagement and learning. Adverse childhood experiences can create toxic stress, affecting attention, learning, and behavior. The equity gap will likely continue to widen.

Here in the District, our young people also bear witness to the racial turmoil, white supremacist violence, and political unrest in their very own backyards, all of which culminated in the violent riots at the United States Capitol on January 6. In the wake of that day of violence and turmoil, Tyonna, one of our protégés who is a senior at Washington Leadership Academy, shared her frustration. 

“Everything we’ve seen with racial issues has made me numb,” Tyonna said. “That’s a bad thing and we shouldn’t have to be numb. I feel like there should be more taking place. This summer with the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, so many things happened like boarding up windows, but [on January 6], there was actually violence so I feel like there should have been more response.”

Our community mentors and staff members are responding by providing safe spaces for students to process these events both one-on-one and among their peers. Recognizing the need to go deeper than dialogue, we move to action to remind our youth that they have the power to make positive change. To lay the foundation for lifelong civic engagement, Kid Power facilitates student elections, complete with a study of voting rights history and an inauguration ceremony. Middle school students learned about how DC neighborhoods have changed over time, and later built 3D models of neighborhoods based on their research and created illustrations of their ideal neighborhoods. Students have also participated in an array of service learning projects that benefit their school community, DC’s unhoused residents, and the global community.

Tyonna said her mentor, Alison, has provided meaningful support in both school and life.

“She helps with school stuff but also personal things so having her is a really good way to merge those lives together,” Tyonna said. "She is a really good person to talk to about different things."

We know that our young people are creative, courageous, resilient, and brilliant. We believe given the right tools, consistent support, and meaningful opportunities, they will become leaders in their communities.

Adapting to the new normal

When we first learned about DCPS closures on March 13, 2020 (yes, that feels like a lifetime ago!), our team jumped into action. On April 6, we launched Kid Power Connect, our first ever virtual online program focusing on schoolwork help, self-expression, community building, and health and wellness. Our virtual summer program, Kid Power Explorers, engaged students through a combination of daily live-streamed group discussions and lessons in combination with pre-recorded programming that allowed for asynchronous learning. 

Our afterschool program for this school year focuses on academic support, community building, self-expression, advocacy and service, and health and wellness. Along with academic enrichment, students have been able to virtually participate in everything from music and art activities to completing a community service project to lessons on gardening and healthy cooking. 

One parent shared that the academic support her son, Rafriel, receives through Kid Power Connect helps him to better manage his schoolwork.

“What you all are doing to help Rafriel and many other kids is beyond amazing,” she said. “Rafriel has told me many times how he looks forward to class and that you keep it interesting and fun.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic has led to a decrease in participation, which means that there are valuable resources and support going unused that could support students through this difficult time.

Helping families meet basic needs

While our virtual programs are aimed at youth, Kid Power also knows the toll the pandemic has had on working parents. Jennifer, a mom of a fifth-grade student, recently shared her challenges related to working and parenting during a pandemic. Her daughter has anxiety and could not see a therapist for two months due to the backlog of young people struggling with school closures and social disconnections. She said that having Kid Power virtual programs and check-in calls with her daughter was “a godsend.” The presence of a trusted adult who her child could speak to on the phone helped give her daughter the space to process the world around her and feel safe and supported. 

Connecting our families and youth with resources has always been at the forefront of our mission, but during this pandemic, this need became urgent. To respond to the increased need, Kid Power set up school-based garden markets at our partner schools that included produce, recipes, and warm winter clothes. Our partners at SuperFd and EcoCaters also helped us coordinate the contactless delivery of hundreds of meals to families since the beginning of the pandemic. We compiled supply packets and coordinated drop-offs, ensuring that families and students had the materials they needed for virtual learning, connected families to free resources for internet access, and began a technology lending library.

As we navigate this new year and the current state of our nation, many of us feel the fragility of our country. While we do not know what this year will bring, we know that our strong community will confront challenges with creativity, courage, and collaboration. Just in the first few weeks of this new year, our young people have continued to inspire me. They are energetic, hopeful, and optimistic to create a better future. It will be these young leaders that will help us create a stronger, more compassionate, and equitable future for our nation.
 

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January 25, 2021