Summer Access program offers youth academic, social support

A summer initiative aimed at giving vulnerable youth much-needed support and experience saw a surge in participation this year, as it wrapped up its third year in operation. The Joint Use Summer Access program has increased its impact in Edmonton dramatically as REACH Edmonton aims to build on this foundation in the future. Through the Joint Use initiative, Edmonton non-profits are connected with unused space at local schools over the summer months so they are able to offer programming to at-risk youth across the city. In 2014, the number of groups participating increased by approximately 38 percent while the number of participating children increased by 80 percent. While the summer programs often give at-risk youth a chance to enjoy recreational activities they might not otherwise have access to, they are also given access to academic programming that will help them succeed during the school year. At the camp run by the Nyarkenyi Development Foundation at Sifton School this year, children spent time assessing their gaps in literacy and math skills and working on problem areas so they were more prepared for standardized curriculum in the fall. "These kids are not just being kept off the street, they're being encouraged to try new things and see what they're good at. If they show a particular aptitude for something we'll find them the support they need to broaden their career goals," said DJ Padaman, an organizer with Nyarkenyi's summer program. "They're having fun and trying new things, but they're also being exposed to standard expectations they're going to face in the schools in the fall." While some of these summer programs focus on the needs of newly arrived immigrants or youth in Aboriginal communities, the needs of first-generation Canadians are being addressed as well. Summer camp organizers with the African School Parents Association of Alberta's summer program at Pere Lacombe School, said some of these youth's needs are often overlooked. Often it can be assumed that these Canadian-born youth are exempt from the barriers many immigrants face, but this overlooks issues of identity, language barriers between parents and the school systems, and a lack of academic support in the home. These were just two of the programs that were held in 13 schools in Edmonton over the summer of 2014, with support from the Joint Use Access initiative. "This program is instrumental in helping emerging Aboriginal, immigrant, refugee, low-income and special needs communities deliver their summer programs," said Lindsay Daniller, director of community initiatives and development at REACH Edmonton. "These programs build the confidence, capacity and academic ability of children and youth from some of Edmonton's most vulnerable communities. In giving these youth the tools they need to succeed in school and their community, we're helping to promote resilience and encourage big dreams for the future and that can make a neighbourhood a safer place to live."