A few months ago, Cincinnati Public Schools approached ABC with an idea to pilot Community Connections Day. The idea was laid out: on an upcoming in-service day when schools would be closed, CPS and ABC would partner to develop a full-day of fun and meaningful learning opportunities for children. This would harness the power of community and prevent working parents from having to take a day off of work, hire a babysitter, or leave their children unsupervised. From this conversation, the first Community Connections Day was born.
The program piloted on Monday, February 3 at Winton Hills Academy. ABC worked with community partners to organize a variety of enrichment activities to keep the students engaged throughout the day. Approximately 65 students took part, participating in activities such as chess, art, drones, soccer, and more.
William Johnson, who serves as the M.O.R.E. Program Coordinator and Community Partnership Specialist for the District, worked collaboratively with Activities Beyond the Classroom’s Director of Elementary Programs Rachel Stallings, to coordinate over a dozen enrichment activities to keep the children engaged for the day.
Johnson and his staff considered the Community Connection Day a win-win for both the district and the community. “Rather than parents needing to call off from work, or having the kids running around the neighborhood, opening the building is a better use of our community assets. CPS’s goal is to help kids find their talent and their passion, [Community Connection Day] is an opportunity for them to learn a new skill, like chess, make new friends, and be active and engaged.”
Students from kindergarten through 6th grade spent their day off learning new skills and experiencing new opportunities. After breakfast, the students were broken up into six groups. Each group took part in six different activities throughout the day, including:
Annie Ruth, an author and internationally-traveled visual artist, led Story Quilt. Ruth has created and curated several art installations throughout Cincinnati. According to Ruth, the quilting activity was designed to make cultural art tangible for the kids.
Lillian Carr, a long time art teacher at CPS, offered children a variety of hands-on art-infused activities, including weaving with colored paper as well as making stars and paper fish. Each of the six groups chose which activity interested them the most.
Younger students got to try their hand at another artistic experience led by Ceneetra of Abrakadoodle, where they used a poured paint technique to create abstract art. The students worked in small groups, and together they decided on their color choices and executed the team’s plan of pouring, flipping and turning.
“We want to spark their creativity, so we teach them the process. This is not about the finished product, instead, it’s about the process.”
The D.A.D. Initiative facilitated three very different activities with the students. One session, led by Mr. Drew, taught the kids about chess. Mr. Drew took the time to show the students the rules of the game, and demonstrated how each piece is permitted to move about the chessboard. “Teaching chess helps structure the minds. It teaches them analytical skills and to see the big picture,” said Mr. Drew.
Another member of the D.A.D. Initiative, Daniel Ware, took over the gym and taught the kids how to play flag football. Ware used the opportunity to instill positive affirmations in the kids. After the kids stretched, they repeated the following creed: “I am smart, I am confident, I am well behaved. I am somebody. I am somebody. I am somebody!”
According to Ware, the creed is used to affirm positive character traits and confidence. The creed worked wonders as the kids were extremely well behaved under Ware’s watch, and played a highly organized game of flag football.
The D.A.D. Initiative teaches social and emotional learning to students through a variety of after-school programming at College Hill, Cheviot, and all-day during S.T.E.A.M. Fridays at Roselawn Condon.
Kids interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) were in for a special treat at the Community Connectors Day. D.A.D. Initiative member, Shawndale Thomas taught some of the older students about Drone Piloting.
Thomas showed the students videos featuring various applications where drones are used for photographic purposes. The students even had an opportunity to fly small scale drones. According to Thomas, “teaching kids to fly drones teaches them to be strategic with their decision-making. Also, they learn that every input causes an output, so we are basically showing them that their actions have consequences.”
Winton Hills students also got to learn the basics of soccer, such as how to dribble a soccer ball and kick a goal. The manager of ABC’s elementary soccer program, Tony Capurro, led two groups of students through soccer drills. According to Capurro, “soccer is good physical fun for the kids. It gets them moving, teaches them core fundamentals, and gives them an opportunity to try something new.”
Our content developer, Nahamani Yisrael, also got to take part in the activities. In addition to writing about the day, Nahamani joined in the artistic fun while learning how to create Graffiti Art. This activity was lead by Brandon Hawkins of Soul Palette, who is a muralist and teaches Graffiti Art at Elementz. Brandon used an analogy of the human body to teach the kids how to create the various layers of urban art.
Other activities included Hands-on Science where students learned how the body’s connective system works using movement and dance. Younger students made slime and abstract art using shaving cream and paint during UpCycle Art’s session. They also played drums and ukuleles at the instruction of Strums and Drums.
The kids weren’t the only ones who got to have a little fun during Community Connections Day. Each group of students was led by a paraprofessional. Paraprofessionals usually assist teachers throughout the school day, but when school is closed, they don’t work. Community Connections Day gave paraprofessionals a way to earn a little extra money, while giving the kids something fun to do.
As parents picked up their children from Winton Hills Academy, they shared their thoughts on the day. They were pleased to give their children something fun to do during the day, and many of the parents we spoke with had to work, so they greatly appreciated being able to have somewhere safe for their children to go. Even parents who did not have to work enjoyed being able to get their kids out of the house. One parent, Krystal, used the Community Connections Day to expose her daughter McKenzie to other children. “She’s an only child. This allowed her to interact with other kids and make new friends.
Ife Bell, Manager of Community Partnerships for CPS, summarized the day by saying “the point of us doing this is about family engagement. This is a matter of safety for our kids.”