News from the Field: Summertime Is Fun Time at the Columbia College 21st CCLC Program

After more than a year of COVID-19 pandemic precautions and virtual programming, summer 2021 offered a fresh start for Columbia College Chicago’s 21st CCLC program. Summer programming provided the opportunity to re-engage with students, schools, and communities in new ways. It also helped prepare the 21st CCLC to return at near-full capacity for in-person programming in the fall. 

“Summer is such an amazing time to work with young people. During the [school] year, they have been through a school day already; in summer, they are so energized and fresh AND looking for creative outlets,” says April Langworthy, then project director for the program. 

With its focus on bringing teacher artists into schools and afterschool programs, the Columbia 21st CCLC program has a stalwart cadre of visual artists, musicians, writers, dancers, and creative youth development staff who work at 12 K–8 schools and high schools in Chicago. “They have a calling for this work and are very committed, and they remained so even through the pandemic,” says Langworthy about the artists who work with the program. 

Program manager Leslie Woods agrees. Woods supervises the 21st CCLC afterschool programming at six sites. Many artists have been with the program for a long time and have been working with the same students for multiple years. Woods believes the relationships established with the corps of teaching artists were deeper than usual last summer because students and staff were reconnecting after a year of online programming. Although the summer program had lower attendance than school-year programming, the students who showed up did so consistently. The smaller numbers also allowed artists to have more one-on-one conversations with students. “When we got back in person this summer, we could relate to the students in a more personal way,” says Woods. 

Parent and student input informed the planning of summer programming, just as it does during the school year. Langworthy notes that the 21st CCLC conducts surveys with parents and adults at the school sites to determine what to offer students but says, “There is nothing like student voice.” She prefers in-person conversations over virtual engagement and says getting input is essential—not just feedback for the activities in which they are currently enrolled but for future activities. “Students vote with their feet—even younger ones,” says Langworthy. 

  • Summer is the time for fun. Give students a choice in their activities and projects.
  • Keep in mind summer programs may encompass many more hours each day than an afterschool program during the school year. A variety of activities keeps everyone engaged.
  • The slower summer pace allows for more time for reflection and more in-depth projects.

The 21st CCLC team tailored summer activities to students’ ages and interests based on student input. For example, during a high school art and activism class, students created art around issues that concerned them—immigration and Black Lives Matter. Two sites had mural projects that focused on collaboration—the students had to decide what messages and images they wanted to convey. There was also African drumming, sports programming, visual arts, filmmaking, and improvisation. The program provided additional leadership and learning opportunities by inviting older students to take leadership roles during the summer. 

At J.N. Thorp Elementary, the motto for summer afterschool was “Get Out, Get Up and Get Moving,” which students did enthusiastically as they participated in the visual arts, dance, yoga, gardening, boxing, running club, and basketball. They also had a chance to participate in cooking classes, movies, games, and conversations about what it is like living through the pandemic and how it compared with life before the pandemic. Students tackled other social and emotional learning topics, such as being both a good loser and a good winner and communications skills. Partners like Chicago Positive Impact and Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program helped students hone leadership skills. 

Woods believes that the 21st CCLC’s first summer back in person was successful for multiple reasons. “It is always a combination of ingredients that makes a program successful—just as there is never just one ingredient that makes a good cake. That’s how it was,” she says. “There was lots of student excitement to come back and participate and play and learn with peers and the teaching artists. Students were very happy about being back in person, and that fueled a lot of good energy into the program.”