by Chamidae Ford
In July, the Department of Education and Early Learning (DEEL) awarded $1 million to 17 local organizations to support summer learning programs. Mostly concentrated in the South End, these funds will support programs that help students prepare for school in the fall.
Chris Alejano, the interim K–12 division director for DEEL, explained that the department had an idea of what type of organizations they wanted to partner with. They specifically looked for programs that support getting students ready for school while also prioritizing mental and physical wellness and addressing educational gaps.
“We’re looking for organizations that have a history of serving those students that are furthest away from educational justice,” Alejano said. “[Also organizations] that had some sort of experience achieving outcomes related to academic support, college and career readiness, [and] health and wellness — or at least a plan that showed that they had a strategy behind how they were going to address those topics.”
One of the organizations that received a grant, South End Stories, focuses heavily on providing students with the space to express themselves through art.
“We’re an arts-education organization with a large focus on anti-racism and activism and culturally responsive pedagogy,” said Francesca Betancourt, the media and communications manager at South End Stories. “Our official mission is to ignite joy and justice in classrooms and communities using arts-based learning, anti-racist education, and social activism.”
South End Stories partnered with Lowell Elementary School and provided an afternoon program for students who were taking summer school. Following their morning lessons, students will go to South End Stories for a creative and expressive afternoon.
“We have the Academy of Play,” Betancourt said. This program features filmmaking, comics and visual art, dance, storytelling, and theater. “Essentially it was to improve wellness among students, to deepen their connection to the arts and each other, and to also just value play and value self-expression.”
The entirely in-person program provides a “strong focus on social, emotional learning, creativity, and space to find your creative voice,” said Betancourt.
Over the past year, the pandemic has revealed many of the stark inequalities in our institutions, which include our education system. These summer grants from DEEL aim to bridge some of the gaps that have caused students to fall further and further behind.
“What we’re doing, really, is we’re investing in our CBL [community-based learning organizations] through summer, learning to support wellness and academic success, really in response to the education inequities that were exasperated by the pandemic,” said DEEL Executive Director Dwane Chappelle. “CBL partners are supporting students who are most impacted by the pandemic and making sure that they’re going to be ready to learn in the fall.”
Another grant recipient was Northwest Center, an organization that works to create equal opportunities for people with disabilities.
“Our organization kind of creates this inclusive community for people of all abilities to feel good and supported,” Snejana Gibskaya, the director of early learning at Northwest Center, said.
Northwest Center used the funds for a wide range of improvements. It allowed them to repair their vans, which resulted in their students being able to attend Mariners Games, MoPop, and the zoo. It is allowing them to purchase a new curriculum and provide greater opportunities for their students.
“I think that the grants help programs enrich what we already have and also gives us the flexibility to schedule and offer things that we wouldn’t be able to offer otherwise,” Gibskaya said. “Nonprofit programs like us are thrilled to have any kind of additional funding because our budgets are limited and it’s always helpful to have support from the City or the State.”
These grants have allowed 17 organizations to support their community, helping over 1,300 students this summer to prepare for school. Betancourt from South End Stories believes grants like these are essential for small organizations to continue to make an impact.
“I think it’s the only way we can actually consistently and sustainably provide,” Betancourt said. “Especially because arts education is not always quantifiable. You can’t always be like, ‘This many ticks forward in this scale happened.’ But we know from countless studies and constant observation that it’s extremely beneficial for students in a lot of ways. It helps them with their academics, their social and emotional life, their wellness, [and] with their sort of own journeys into identity. So [grants] help hugely. It’s really the only way we can do that type of work. Only if we’re given the trust and the space to be able to fully serve students in the way that we envision.”
Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.
📸 Featured Image: Photo courtesy of Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures from Northwest Center Kids.
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