As in-person classrooms begin to re-open, summer camp teachers are on the front lines educating children about a world facing the coronavirus pandemic, protests and general uncertainty.
The Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence is a non-profit childcare organization that provides summer camp-like programs to children in kindergarten through high school.
One of the teachers at the club, April Makara, a senior psychology major from Morrisville, Missouri, said the organization thrives on creating inclusive environments for children to break down issues, such as the coronavirus and Black Lives Matter protests, that some campers may have little knowledge of.
However, Makara said they must do their best not to overstep any boundaries.
“We answer those questions to the best of our abilities while still being professional and not giving out false information,” Makara said.
Zoie Thomas, a fifth year senior communications studies major from Compton, California, is a group leader at the Boys and Girls Club at Pinckney Elementary.
Thomas gets to work with kids on summer projects and crafts, like making butter and birdhouses, but also helps explain complex subjects like the pandemic and protests.
Her teaching demographic is kids who are between kindergarten and third grade. She said it helps make the day exciting for both her and her students when she gets to answer their questions.
Thomas said that when it comes to the coronavirus, the kids notice the situation at hand and the need for proper safety procedures. But because of their young ages, they don’t fully grasp it.
“They kind of understand it a little bit, like they get that there's a virus and that we all need to stay safe and like that's why we have to sit at our own tables," Thomas said, "but at the same time they're still just getting out of first grade."
The kids must wear masks at all times. However, for the kids who don’t understand the need for masks, Thomas tells them to consider other people who could get sick.
As an immunocompromised person herself, Thomas said she tells her students the virus could affect her ability to go back to work.
“Well, how would you feel if Miss Zoie never came back?” Thomas would say to her students to help them understand the situation better.
To accommodate social distancing, every kid has their own desk. Thomas said kids like this because they’re already very territorial.
Because there’s a lot of confusion going on in the world, some kids may need extra support. Teachers at Boys & Girls Club do their best to answer questions and provide open communication.
Thomas said oftentimes the children confide in her, asking her to speak one-on-one with them at times. However, most days she addresses her entire group all at once, because the kids often have similar questions.
One of the other more complex topics she gets to talk with them about are the Black Lives Matter protests and discussions about racism.
“You can tell the kid every day that racism is wrong, but they won't know unless you give them an experience they’ll believe,” Thomas said.
Thomas said many of the kids have similar questions and they don’t know how to properly voice them, or are unsure if they’re even allowed to.
Because most of her demographic may come from homes where their parents aren't financially, mentally or emotionally stable to raise kids, Thomas said they aren’t necessarily getting a full rounded experience, and wants to help educate them.“As a Black person I'm showing them that Black people in power is a thing and Black authority figures are a thing,” Thomas said.
There have been a few problems with kids repeating things that their parents say or doing things that are not necessarily inclusive to all people, Thomas said. When questions or incidents come up in the class, she tries to get the group together and discuss what happened in a light-hearted, but still real way.
“It's not just people being mean and it's like their real thoughts and opinions, Thomas said. “I tell them, 'It's just how some people feel that way. It's not right or wrong, but there's nothing we can do about it except to educate them.'”
Thomas said talking to kids is a great way to strengthen conversation skills, and that comes from treating them with the utmost respect.
“I try to be as realistic as possible because from my experience, kids respond the best when you speak to them as if they're adults, as if I’m just talking to one of my friends,” Thomas said.