Young people sit and stand on steps with signs, the largest of which says "Protect Children, Not Guns!"

DEEL-Funded Free South End Summer Programs That Are Still Enrolling

by Ari Robin McKenna


After two of the most harrowing school years most people can remember, this summer holds promise for South End’s youth to be kids, enjoy themselves, and have powerful experiences shared with others their age.

For the second consecutive summer, the Seattle Department of Education and Early Learning (DEEL) has donated $1 million to ensure that community organizations providing quality summer programming are supported. Meant to redress the disproportionate impacts of learning disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on historically underserved youth, these funds are drawn from the voter-approved Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise (FEPP) Levy that went into effect in 2019 and runs through 2026.

DEEL director Dwane Chappelle is proud of the broad range of supported programming, including college tours, work-based learning experiences, and literacy programs, focused on topics like robotics, photography, screenwriting, and gardening. Chappelle said DEEL is “making sure that [youth] have safe spaces to learn, for them to explore their college and career interests throughout the summer months.”

Most of the 19 organizations listed on DEEL’s website are based in the Central District or the South End, with an age range from kindergarten to 12th grade. These programs are offered at no cost, sliding scale, or for a fee. Enrollment remains open at the following:

A review panel that included DEEL staff and the community-led FEPP oversight committee provided recommendations, before DEEL directors made final decisions. Chappelle said factors considered during the selection process were “the [Request for Information] application score, communities and neighborhoods [that] have been most impacted by COVID-19, strong partnerships with schools and school communities, diversity among the proposals, [and] how programs are responding to student needs with culturally responsive approaches.”

Chappelle, who has children enrolled in DEEL programs, said, “We’re very, very fortunate to have these really robust programs, and I just want to make sure that our kids and families get a chance to take advantage of them. I want to encourage families who have children in grades kindergarten through 12 to explore the summer programs that are going to be available across the city this summer, because they’re going to have many options to choose from.”

The Emerald recently spoke to representatives from a few programs to give students and parents an idea about what they can expect. South End Stories and WA-BLOC both were recipients of this summer’s DEEL grant, and Young Women Empowered (Y-WE) received school year funding from a separate DEEL grant funding program that supports Black girls, young women, and queer and transgender youth.

South End Stories (SES): Academy of Play 

July 5–29 weekdays from 1 to 5 p.m.; FREE at Lowell Elementary School

Photo courtesy of South End Stories.

Maribel Gonzalez is the South End Stories Social Emotional Learning (SEL) “comfort coach.”

Who is your summer program ideal for?

GONZALEZ: This academy is for children in K-5 [at Madrona and Lowell Elementary who are enrolled in summer learning] who are silly, shy, introverted, excited, or bored with school. It’s for every child who wants to feel challenged and try something different in an environment where children are accepted as they are.

What can kids expect at your camp experience?

GONZALEZ: This is a place to come to make friends, to have fun, and to center play. … We’re going to listen: Youth will have all the opportunities to make choices about what they want to do. There’s going to be field trips, lots of imagination play, and we’re going to have Comic-Con — where on certain days you get to come dressed as your favorite character! I’m excited because I’ll be there and I’ll get a chance to play. We’re going to be playful and really honor the child in all of us. Kids can expect to be grounded in curiosity, play, and storytelling.

Two masked students sit at a table with papers, markers, and books
Photo courtesy of South End Stories.

What do you want parents to know about your camp experience?

GONZALEZ: We’re creating space — even for the adults in the room — to just relax and radically accept children as they are and to work with them, but still providing these opportunities for them to be imaginative and creative. It’s an honor to then witness the transformation when we give space for kids to take the tools, take the technology, take their creativity and their imagination and then run with it … and then take witness to their brilliance.

We’re utilizing a project-based learning approach. Our teaching artist will be equipped with instructional support in creating project cycles where students are actively learning skills — such as collaboration, problem solving, and even content-based standards — by moving through a project cycle that is relevant to their lives, culture, and community.

The reason that we’re utilizing a project-based learning approach is because it’s inquiry driven. So we are supporting youth in solving problems together, but it’s highly structured, rigorous, and integrated (meaning not compartmentalized). It focuses on applying knowledge, not regurgitation. Literacy and leadership skills will be developed during this camp, but it will happen implicitly, because at the center of all of this is play.

WA-BLOC: Freedom Schools

July 5–Aug. 5 weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., FREE at Emerson Elementary School

A book called "The Word Collector" sits propped on a table in the forefront of another table of students participating in a summer program
Photo courtesy of WA-BLOC.

Katie Brantley is WA-BLOC’s Freedom Schools program manager.

Who is your summer program ideal for?

BRANTLEY: [It’s for] Emerson Elementary K-5 (including graduating students) Black and Brown students who have a love of reading, storytelling, songwriting, writing poetry, rapping, performing in front of an audience, or any other way they want to convey their message. [It’s] for curious Emerson students who can ask questions and won’t be shut down. [It’s] for Emerson students who want to engage with others and be in community. In the future, students from other schools will be welcome.

What can kids expect at your camp experience?

BRANTLEY: Fun and joy are two big things that I want to be fixtures of this summer. The way that we’ll explore that will look different depending on the scholar, depending on the class dynamics. We’re going to have Mondays through Thursdays based on-site at Emerson. We’re going to do reading, we’re going to do fun enrichment activities like soccer club, gardening, and learning about marine life and our communities. On Fridays, we’re going to have field trips where we go have fun around the city. One of our field trips is going to be to Seahurst Park in Burien. We’re going to do not only a beach day, but a tide pool exploration day partnering with a black naturalist, Orion Grant. We’re also just going to do trail stuff, sand castles, identity sculptures, and just have fun in general.

A big portion of this program is about literacy and love of reading, but another big portion is that social action piece. Feeling empowered and feeling like they actually have agency to change things around them. There’s going to be a space where they can talk to other youth, and talk to adults and ask questions and figure out solutions to things that are bothering them or that they think need to be changed. Most importantly, we’re going to make space for the youth to be able to be seen and heard.

What do you want parents to know about your camp experience?

BRANTLEY: There will be community engagement opportunities. We’re going to have family orientation and have some family nights. We’re also going to provide groceries for families to come pick up if they want. We’re partnering with Rainier Valley Food Bank in particular, and we’re going to see what kinds of resources they will be able to share through us as well.

We want to know what are some of the concerns, issues, and needs that people are seeing and having — especially when it comes to their kids. We want this to be an opportunity for them as well to be able to say, “This is something that I’m facing,” “This is something I’m dealing with,” “I need support in X, Y, or Z way.” If we can be helpful in connecting them to resources, that would be great.

I guess I would also say that WA-BLOC as an organization and the Freedom Schools program are aligned in that we want all of the experiences to be restorative. All of the classrooms are going to be restorative classrooms. We’re training our instructors so that they can be responsive, and so that they can create spaces for youth that are going to be enjoyable. There are so many things about a typical classroom experience that are either boring or harmful. And all of our instructors are going to be Instructors of Color. Our ratio of scholars to instructors is 10 to 1, so we want to intentionally have smaller groups so that everybody gets individualized attention.

Young Women Empowered (Y-WE): Y-WE Create, Y-WE Write, Black Girl/NB Summer, and BIPOC Girl/NB Summer

Dates, times, and who programs are ideal for varies by program. All are FREE.

A group of students stand in a circle holding string between them as part of a summer program activity
Photo courtesy of Y-WE.

Reagan Jackson is the co-executive director of programs and organizational vision for Y-WE.

What can kids expect at your camp experience?

JACKSON: Fun, for one thing. I know that sounds really simple, but in this time, fun is not simple. Fun is not easy. Fun is oftentimes inaccessible, and something that people just haven’t been having. So that’s like my number one priority, is to provide a space for joy, where young people can really relax and de-stress from a really stressful last couple of years. That being said, they’re also going to find connection, community, and resources.

What do you want parents to know about your camp experience?

JACKSON: Even though King County has gone unmasked, anytime we’re inside, we will be wearing masks. When we’re outside, there’s a culture of consent and we’ll make that decision together based on where we’re at in the summer, and what the exposure risk is like. While this is a different set of programming than we’ve run, Y-WE has been in operation for 13 years, and we’ve been running beautiful programming, so we know what we’re doing. We also try to mitigate barriers to participation. So if youth need support with transportation, we’ll work it out. And we provide healthy and delicious food.

More Summer Programs for Youth

Here are some links to other summer programs still enrolling youth:


Editors’ Note: This article was updated to correct Maribel Gonzalez’s last name.


Ari Robin McKenna worked as an educator and curriculum developer in Brooklyn, New York; Douala, Cameroon; Busan, South Korea; Quito, Ecuador; and Seattle, Washington, before settling in South Seattle. He writes about education for the Emerald. Contact him here.

📸 Featured image courtesy of Y-WE.

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