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Oreos and Gummies in the Summer Classroom

Have elementary school students forgotten how to go to school in person? Will they have the discipline? The self-control to remain seated? Respect for teachers?

Well, yes, if they are among the 37 fortunate East-of-Bayshore students to join Bayshore Christian Ministries’ KidSmart Bridge summer program!

As many schools prepare for a transition back to in-person classes, the staff and volunteers in KidSmart Bridge see an opportunity to serve kids that have undergone almost a year of online learning. For many 1st to 4th grade children that attend KidSmart Bridge, they have been learning at home and away from other kids for long enough that skills such as socializing with other students and extended focus in classrooms need refreshing.

KidSmart Bridge, an all day, in-person academic program which runs for six weeks from June 8th to August 5th, is a great way to prepare students to re-enter the classroom environment and to reinsert themselves at their grade level after a year of interrupted schooling.

KidSmart Bridge divides its programming into morning and afternoon components: the morning is reserved for academic review of the past year and review of the upcoming year’s curriculum. The afternoon is designed to offer hands-on fun like interactive science activities and arts and crafts.

This year, with the help of Innoverge Workshops, students learned about marine engineering and materials sustainability, physics concepts, propulsion, fuel, and the ethics of space exploration. They created models of the moon phases using Oreo cookies, and built a weight-loading bridge using toothpicks and gummies. Besides understanding and applying physics concepts they’ve learnt in their morning academic classrooms they’re also reinforcing good collaborative and social skills with other kids through group work.

"If they can resist consuming too many of their building blocks -- bite shaped Oreo-moons or gummies disproportionately missing a kid’s favorite flavor—then they can build something together to win prizes," laughs a volunteer.

Besides new partners like Innoverge, KidSmart Bridge is also comprised of mainstays — staff and volunteers that have dedicated many years to serving kids in East Palo Alto and deriving joy every year as they lift up new groups of children. Diana Liggs, for example, has been a staff member with KidSmart for 15 years. For her, the ability to impart self-esteem and confidence to do well in school has motivated her to innovate every year:

“Based on the needs that I see in the children I add new components to Bridge every year. For example, we found out that the reason some of the kids were unable to finish their tests online this year was because they didn’t know how to use the keyboard. This simple knowledge gap was really impacting the students’ learning and their self-esteem. I added a typing component to address that issue.

“Last year, there was a fifth grader who was writing an essay to get into a school but did not know how to formulate her ideas. So, I added a writing component to the program.”

Diana is able to shape the program flexibly around the students’ most immediate needs because she has kept in close contact with their teachers in schools. “I want to reinforce what teachers are teaching; I send them emails to introduce myself and communicate that their student attends my after school or summer program. I say, ‘if there’s anything I need to work on with them, please let me know. We have the time and the volunteers.’”

Diana is especially and continuously thankful for the volunteers that have been working with her in KidSmart Bridge for many years. She emphasizes that the volunteers she works with have been amazing and she waits with bated breath every year for them to say ‘yes.’ Some are relatively new, but a few have been with KidSmart Bridge for 8-9 years.

One such volunteer is Roland, who found out about Bayshore Christian Ministries and KidSmart through Menlo Church’s website. He describes his constancy and dedication to the kids in a matter-of-fact way: “When I started serving in this ministry, it just seemed to work out.”

Roland is attentive to the new learning difficulties that this past year has presented to the kids: “A lot of the kids lost ground from being at home during the pandemic. It is satisfying to see them figure it out. I love that moment when it comes back to them and it clicks.”

Both Diana and Roland display the spirit of KidSmart Bridge as a program that aims to develop children’s academics wholistically; by always seeking out the particular needs and gaps in each student’s life and accommodating specific areas of need. The propensity to be on the lookout is apparent in other volunteers too, as they move from table to table during the bridge-building afternoon component to offer advice, answer questions, and mediate disagreements whenever they come up. With their help, KidSmart Bridge’s students will be better equipped to move past turbulent times and to return to a new year of learning.

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