Weber State’s Pre-Freshman Program (PREP), a free six-week summer course in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for junior high students in the Ogden, Weber and Davis School Districts, is being held in a virtual format this summer as opposed to previous summers.
And the first day of PREP went about how some might expect, given the challenges of putting a whole in-person class curriculum online in a short period of time.
“Yes, the first day was like our house was on fire, we had so many questions from parents and kids not used to Canvas or Zoom, so it was a lot of figuring things out on Monday, but by Tuesday we felt pretty good,” said Dana Dellinger, director of the Center for Technology Outreach and Weber State’s PREP director.
PREP is hardly alone in that regard.
Many summer youth programs and camps have had to either significantly alter or change the way they do things this summer as a result of public health protocols in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Weber County 4-H had to cancel its Aggie Adventures program, which usually consists of theme-based day camps for kids at the Weber County Fairgrounds, but replaced it with a series of virtual workshops where kids can follow along and do the activity with a pre-purchased kit of materials (the kits cost $10 or less).
Those workshops touch on a variety of subjects, including: gardening, wood painting, crafting, sewing a holiday stocking, making homemade sidewalk chalk and making homemade lotions.
“It’s definitely been a different experience for sure, and making sure that we have the kits all available in time for the parents to come, and pick up and that they have everything in the kits,” 4-H educator Ali Teuscher said.
“It’s important to still be offering things that our 4-H families can participate in and have their kids do, as well as still get those youth that aren’t a part of 4-H.”
Teuscher said one challenge of pivoting a program to a virtual format is kids’ attention spans get shorter in a virtual setting.
Normally, the in-person workshops go from 3-4 hours, but the virtual workshops have been condensed into 1-2 hour slots.
Dellinger said she was disappointed that students couldn’t be on-campus this summer for PREP, but there are some good things that have already come out of the online format, which is in its second week.
“I think programs for junior high kids are better served in person because the bond that they form, the relationships are really important for them to persevere through hard classes, hard degrees; however, I think we all have seen, there are some positives to doing some things online. Learning to adapt and doing well anyway is definitely one of them,” she said.
PREP covers topics such as computer programming, introduction to physics, engineering and algebraic structures.
Dellinger believes that students in the program, which is free to high-academic achieving students in the Ogden, Weber and Davis districts, will still be able to learn despite the change in instructional delivery.
She also thinks there may be a benefit for teachers as well.
“Our teachers are from the Davis, Ogden and Weber School District. They’re really refining these skills of teaching kids online with PREP and having some freedom to experiment during the summer. I think this is going to be a real win-win for their districts and their students,” she said.
The Boys and Girls Club of Weber-Davis launched a virtual programming channel called BGCTV, basically at a moment’s notice, once it anticipated that most of its summer programs would be canceled due to the virus.
Not all summer programs have gone virtual, though.
The Ogden Nature Center pushed its June 5-6 family camp out to August 2-3 and is limiting it to four families, canceled its “Picture Yourself Outside” camp and made the “X-treme Eco and Creepy Crawly Critters” camp into a day camp instead of a normal overnight camp.
YMCA Northern Utah is still putting on in-person camps, including its STEM summer day camps at Ogden Preparatory Academy and Layton Christian Academy.
Weber State postponed several other summer camps including Code Changers, Welding Camp for Girls and WSU Medical Academy.
Davis County 4-H has transitioned many of its summer camps and programs online.
One of the programs is a five-week course in the basics of fly fishing, with online seminars of 30-45 minutes each week, which started earlier this month.
Both the YMCA and Ogden Nature Center camps have the requisite health modifications and screenings, with kids separated into more, smaller groups.
“Field trips now come to us, as opposed to us going out to a field trip,” YMCA Northern Utah regional director Tom Debole said.
Activities are held outside as much as possible and kids have their own sets of supplies such as crayons for the summer.
Decreased attendance, both out of necessity to follow health protocols and general anxieties from parents and kids, is one common factor between at least two of the programs and possibly more in the area.
PREP has 171 students instead of 195 this summer, though Dellinger said the program’s participation rate was higher than expected. BGCWD is serving approximately 100 kids this summer instead of its normal tally of around 400.
Attendance for the virtual 4-H workshops varies, Teuscher said. Some sessions, around a dozen kids will sign up, but for others, the sign ups will range from 35-45, which she said has been the norm for in-person workshops.