Support to Keep Students on Track During the Pandemic

with Chrissy Chen of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America

As students prepare for a new school year, extracurricular programs designed to keep students engaged are evolving in light of COVID-19.

Chrissy Chen, Senior Director of Youth Development for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, shares how the organization’s signature after-school programs have been reshaped to offer continued in-person and virtual support.

Posted on:

August 18, 2020

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: After-school programs can boost academic performance, reduce risky behaviors, and provide a safe environment for children. But with prolonged social-distancing practices due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person programs aren't always available, and experts worry that kids may lose focus, and that could mean they fall behind. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers. "I'm Tetiana Anderson. As decisions are being made about whether students will learn in-person or virtually, after-school programs are having to pivot. Joining me to talk about that is Chrissy Chen. She is the senior director of youth development for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Chrissy, thank you so much for joining us.

Chen: Thank you so much for inviting me.

Anderson: So, look, Pew Research says that 50% of people surveyed say that the Internet is essential during this pandemic. So, what does that mean about the reliance that school-age children must have on the Internet during the crisis that we're all living through?

Chen: Right. So, when schools quickly pivoted to offering distance learning or virtual learning, access to the Internet became even more important than before the COVID-19 pandemic. And this is one of many examples of how the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted or exacerbated existing inequalities. So, just as access to safe spaces or quality healthcare or academic support became even more important during this recent pandemic, access to the Internet did, as well. So, Boys & Girls Clubs of America are doing whatever we can to reach all young people with sort of two parallel strategies for addressing the digital divide. One is to try to increase access to the Internet, especially for the young people who previously didn't have access, with strategies like sending out mobile hotspots, expanding the reach of Wi-Fi of clubs into outdoor spaces, or coordinating with schools to make Internet and devices available to all youth. At the same time, we're ensuring that we're offering some offline activities so that young people continue to learn and connect with their friends and connect with care and youth development professionals, even if that' sin an offline format.

Anderson: So, every summer, kids deal with something called summer learning loss. It increases every summer. But now we're not only in summer, we're also in the midst of a pandemic. So, first of all, explain to our viewers who might not know what summer learning loss is and then talk a little bit about how the pandemic has exacerbated that and what you're seeing at the Boys & Girls Club of America that tells you that's true.

Chen: So, typically, summer learning loss describes the phenomenon that when young people are out of school and they're not practicing the skills they recently learned, they forget some of those skills. It's a basic "use it or lose it" idea. We know that COVID-19 has introduced many more challenges to learning. So not only when young people return to school this fall would they possibly not perform quite as well on a math or reading assessment as they would have when they first learned it, but now we've got these additional challenges to learning. There's the loss of the traditional academic experience. There's also the absence of the social and emotional connections that young people rely on school for, a chance to see their friends and teachers .And finally, there's the reality that a lot of young people have experienced trauma over the last few months, whether they know someone who got sick or who lost a job or whether they're not feeling safe, and trauma impacts learning, as well. So because of all of these threats to learning, we're advocating fora really responsive youth-centered approach to learning in which clubs prioritize social and emotional wellness first and then offer relevant learning activities to respond to young people's strengths and needs and interests and, finally, prepare for a spectrum of academic enrichment and support so that we're able to not act like a "one size fits all" approach to education is gonna be helpful this fall. But we can really ask questions and respond to the youth's unique experiences.

Anderson: Just tell us a little bit more about the virtual learning that's going on in Boys & Girls clubs across America.

Chen: Local Boys & Girls clubs have been incredibly creative in offering virtual programming for young people. There have been virtual hip-hop exercise classes, virtual cooking classes, virtual town halls for teens. Two recent examples – the National Keystone Conference, which is our convening of team leaders around the world, went virtual this year around the theme of "we the youth declare that we will be heard, seen, and united. "We have a virtual town hall focused on "be the change you wish to see in the world, "in which teens are elevating their voices around social justice. And we've really seen that the disruption of COVID-19,which made it hard for young people to meet within the walls of Boys & Girls clubs, created all of this opportunity for innovation, for programming that extends beyond the walls of any one Boys & Girls club, and connects young people together across the movement.

Anderson: In times of crisis and chaos comes creativity and opportunity. Chrissy, if people want to learn more about what the Boys & Girls clubs are doing, where can they go?

Chen: The best place to learn more is That's also a space where you can enter in your location and find the Boys & Girls Club nearest you, which may be offering virtual or in-person programming. And one other website I'd recommend is, which is our digital platform for club programs. And that's a space to connect with other young people and access programmatic learning activities from wherever you are.

Anderson: Chrissy Chen with the Boys & Girls Club of America, thank you for being here.

Chen: Thank you so much for having me.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, be sure to log onto I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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