Summer ‘Lunch, Learn, and Play program is COVID-19 compliant and started for Loveland kids June 1

By Chuck Gibson

LOVELAND, OH (June 15, 2020) — The NEST summer program for 2020 took on a whole new look when it launched Monday, June 1.

NEST 2020 summer program will not look like years past (FILE) 

NEST advisory board and founder Evangeline DeVol scrambled in March when Loveland Schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. They were able to partner with Loveland Schools to help feed the at risk students throughout the community. While the schools were closed, the school year was not officially over as staff, teachers, parents and students all adjusted to remote learning. But as the official end of the school year drew near, DeVol and NEST advisors recognized the need to redesign there summer program to include a focus on learning skills for the kids.

“We normally don’t start our summer program the first week after classes end,” said DeVol. “We at least two, sometimes three weeks between the end of school switch over everything we need for the program.”

This year is different. They did not want to wait. A lot of different reasons factored into their decision to begin the summer program the first week after school ended.  Mental health care, potential for abuse and drug abuse are not the least among the reasons for connecting with the kids sooner this summer. With the COVID-19 social restrictions, members of NEST knew there was no place for some of the kids to go except back home.

 “There were just a lot of components we needed to address for the summer program,” DeVol explained. “We wanted to stay in these kids’ lives. That was the most important thing for us. They’ve already been without school. We felt like we needed to be there to make sure these kids and families knew they were important to us; that they have value, we’re here to help and we want to stay engaged.”

Nearly 50 families volunteered to assemble academic kits for the NEST summer program. (Provided)

The big question NEST faced was how to stay in the lives of those kids, to stay engaged, and to assure those families they are valued. The answer did not come easy. NEST by its very name is an acronym meaning Nutrition, Education, Safety and Transformation (NEST). They recognized the success of the Loveland Schools feeding program during the school year pandemic closure and knew that nutritious feeding must continue. Education became more important than a usual summer with the loss of that in-person connection during distance remote learning. 

“We came up with this program,” said DeVol. “It has three goals.”

The first is to continue feeding the kids. NEST is sending out a hardy and nutritious lunch to the kids every day. On Thursday, they send out food and snack items for the weekend. LIFE Food Pantry already provides food packs to feed the families through the weekend.  The goal is for all the meals to be high in nutritional value. DeVol says virtually all the food items come through donations. Necessary food items not received directly by donation are purchased with funds raised by NEST through fundraising events and simple donations.

“You can’t learn when you’re hungry,” DeVol said. “You also have to have the right kind of foods. We know that chemicals and preservatives actually harm the human brain. We know if we take care of that piece, and health and wellness, we’ll get a bigger bang for our academic buck, because they’ll retain more and do better in school. It is all intertwined.”

The second goal, staying connected with the kids, may be the toughest of all in a world redesigned by COVID-19 social distancing safety restrictions. It is probably the most different aspect of the summer program compared to past years for NEST. In the past, the program was more lunch and play outside with a NEST mobile unit on site; a sort of academic retention program disguised as summer camp. That’s how DeVol described it.

Like always, there is a registration form and every child must be registered (by law) to be part of the NEST program. This year, there is no bringing the kids together in the park or in a NEST mobile unit. To assure compliance with COVID-19, NEST volunteers are delivering to the kids at their homes. It keeps them connected, but play looks different than in the past. That brings us to their third goal for summer 2020: keeping the kids brains academically engaged

 “We decided to put academic packets together that are age and brain appropriate for every child in the NEST summer program,” DeVol said. “They get three or four packets every week with math, science, language arts and sometimes a craft.”

These two Loveland teens were among the many who responded to help assemble academic science, math and crafts kits for NEST (Provided) 

NEST reached out to Strive Academy – an online academy for enrichment in science and math – to partner with them (actually contracted with them) to put together hands-on math and science activities for the kids. That resulted in the creation of four different packets for kid’s pre-K-1st, grades 2-4, 5-6, and 7-8. Strive does it online giving the kids the activities the day before and then they can do it at their kitchen table with their parents.

“It’s a brilliant, brilliant thing,” said DeVol.

 The partnership with Loveland Schools is what created the connection with Strive Academy for NEST. The school was able to connect the two as part of their mission to decrease losses in reading and other academics for students during the summer.

Eric Dool, LCSD Student Services Director, says it is part of their effort to raise their direct services to students in poverty. It is a program funded through Title I Federal Grant money. It is not funded by local tax dollars. Schools are charged by Title I to partner with parents and community groups to serve students to mitigate academic losses. It falls right in line with the goals of the school district and the requirements for those grant dollars.

 “It’s such a small percentage of the funding, it really wasn’t much to help NEST to continue with that effort,” said Dool. “The last two years we’ve also worked to provide NEST with level reading materials specific to students. For students living in poverty, this is one way we have partnered with the community to intervene for those students over the summer months.”

DeVol expressed enormous gratitude for that partnership and for volunteers helping serve the kids throughout the summer. NEST is serving nearly double the number of children this year compared to the number of children from last summer. She expressed thanks on NEST social media sites for the “overwhelming response of this terrific community” with almost 50 families coming together to assemble the science and math academic kits for the kids. Those kits will provide opportunities to explore and enjoy learning for each child throughout the COVID compliant NEST Summer Lunch, Learn, and Play program in Loveland.

“We are so very thankful that Strive Academy took on the challenge of partnering with us to help us design an academic “take home” program that will ensure just that,” DeVol shared in a NEST Facebook page post. “Lots and lots of “AHA!” moments and fun learning guaranteed! The two brilliant teachers who created and run Strive Academy (Amber Hawk and Emily Hunt) have a program that is really worth your time to investigate. Click here to visit STRIVE online. You will fall in love with their program as much as we have.”

 More kids registered than last summer and more weeks serving them all adds up to continuing needs for NEST. Here is a list of some needs right now.