CEE youth enrichment programs go virtual

In Summer 2019, TCC Northwest’s office of Community Education and Engagement decided to launch a new version of College For Kids, their non-credit youth summer program they have been offering since the mid-1980s. TCC Northwest, along with the other TCC campuses, decided to move away from the previous model of offering three-week camps covering a wide variety of topics to a leaner, more focused selection of one-week camps centered on targeted subjects.

The switch to the one-week model made sense on multiple levels. First, it fit with TCC’s and the Texas state legislature’s emphasis on guided pathways by attempting to get youth in the community to think about career options well before high school. The CEE team reached out to a number of academic programs to explore offerings that focus on STEM and career-exploration. They also partnered with organizations like the YMCA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and Vital Link Fort Worth as well as the University of North Texas.

The new model was also logistically simpler for both CEE and for families.

“It’s a little more concentrated and manageable from our end to run it this way, and we also heard from parents and students that they liked the new model,” said Daniela Molina, interim executive director of CEE at TCC Northwest.

In addition, by unifying the approach to College For Kids across the College and offering it as one large program to the entire community, Molina says it presented a simpler set of options to parents and was in line with TCC’s goal to operate as one college.

CEE was set to launch an advertising campaign for their Summer 2020 offerings of the now rebranded Youth Enrichment program when the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to pause and reassess what would be possible. Molina, just coming back from maternity leave, says figuring out how to proceed with the summer was her first order of business.

“I came back on April 2nd, essentially three business days before we were set to begin open registration for the summer on April 7th,” Molina said. “If you remember back to April of 2020, we were in a place of uncertainty with how our summer would look, and there was a strong possibility that we would be back face-to-face. The day I came back from maternity leave was the day we found out that we would not be able to offer face-to-face camps and so then the question was, what would we do?”

They immediately got to work planning for what an online, virtual summer Youth Enrichment program would look like. The two big problems to solve were what platform to use and what topics to offer for students. They explored many different platforms such as Zoom and MS Teams before settling on Google Classroom, with which they found most students already familiar.

For topics, the name of the game was intentionally choosing topics that were well suited to both the online modality and the new career exploration focus of the program. At TCC Northwest, CEE ultimately offered two one-week coding camps, one for grades 4 through 6 and the other for grades 7 through 9. Both were taught by Steve Smiley, instructor of information technology, who hosted live, synchronous sessions with students each Monday through Thursday afternoon.

According to Smiley, “The kids at the coding camps were great. The class met each day for four hours in the afternoon, and they stayed engaged in Blockly and Python the whole time.  It was fun to return to the younger coders for a few weeks. We all had a great time.”

The afternoon time block seemed to work well for families. According to Molina, “We heard from parents who told us that the mornings were harder for them to get their kids set up and moving with a synchronous class. They found the afternoons to work better for that, and that gave their kids the morning to work individually on their projects.”

Across the College, topics such as Photography, Ingenious Engineering, Public Services Career Exploration, Arts and Humanities Career Exploration, Sign Language, Beginning Spanish and STEM Space Explorers were offered, some in a live, synchronous modality and some in a more self-paced, asynchronous modality. For example, students in TCC South’s AutoCAD camp were given assignments with instructions and deadlines to turn in their work but were otherwise able to work at their own pace. All told, 80 students enrolled in camps across the College with 26 enrolling in TCC Northwest’s coding camps.

CEE has used the Fall semester to assess how the Summer programs went and determine what to offer in Spring and Summer 2021. For Spring 2021, the campuses are planning to continue their successful College-wide collaboration as well as continue with the online modality via Google Classroom. There are multiple topics in the works, including many that were offered over the summer as well as a new camp called Safe Sitter Essentials for students in 6th through 8th grade that will teach how to be a great babysitter. Details about the schedule and registration will be released soon. For Summer 2021, Molina says they are planning for both in-person camps and virtual camps. What Summer 2021 will look like is still very uncertain and they want to be ready for either eventuality.