After a year of navigating virtual school and student outreach, CYD staff has become expert at finding creative ways to keep students engaged and interested. “One of the reasons CYD’s services are successful is because of the relationships we build with students – they trust us to be helpful advisors,” says Assistant Executive Director Margaret Aylward. “When the lockdown started last year, we already knew the students. This year staff has had to figure out how to initiate and maintain relationships with young people who we’ve never met in person. Students are tired of being online, so even just getting them to connect to an activity is a victory.”
“We’ve gotten creative with a whole range of activities that students are interested in joining, even at the end of a long school day,” says Advisor Sebastian Munn. Along with more ‘school-like’ activities, staff at the three schools sponsor movie nights, online study halls where students can hang out together and listen to music while they do their homework, and virtual field trips – recently students toured the White House and the stock market and visited West Africa by watching the Senegal episode of Parts Unknown. “That was extremely popular – we have a large West African student body and we had a lively discussion of Senegalese vs. American culture,” advisor Hattie Hill describes. In addition to these virtual trips, movie screenings have been a fun way to involve students, with advisors showing films like Black Panther and Soul and having discussions afterwards. Sebastian has brought students together by streaming soccer games and hosting an NBA Draft watch event. “Finding and establishing common ground is crucial to building trust with students,” he says. “Then we have a foundation to talk about college and job training.”
Advisors have also been using ice breakers and games as an interactive way to address relevant topics, like College and Career readiness. “We always start meetings with a fun non-college related question, like favorite ice cream flavor or picking a celebrity to spend the day with. It’s a great way to keep students engaged and ease their nerves before jumping into important discussions,” advisor Gina Morrello says. “The kids get really involved and are really interactive in the chats which is fun to see.”
CYD staff’s relationships with the schools’ teachers have also been essential during this remote learning year. “Teachers have always been receptive to having CYD come into classrooms for presentations, but having guests in remote classrooms is more difficult,” says Sebastian. “Teachers have been great in allotting some online class time for us to do outreach and remind students of our services.” While nothing can replace the face-to-face interaction, CYD staff is finding new paths to connect.
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