by Zavier Borja
COVID-19 has affected everyone in some shape or form. Especially those in lower socioeconomic areas and our populations with high vulnerability. As a result from this pandemic the majority of things are now done online which includes school for all learners. While it is great that our education system and partners have all adapted to offer education to our youth, the opportunity for social and emotional opportunities, such as play, getting outside safely and recess, have been stripped away.
Jugamos Afuera is a program developed by Vámonos Outside and Camp Fire Central Oregon to help offer social and emotional opportunities for our LatinX youth. The program came about because Rebecca Easton, an ELL teacher at Silver Rail Elementary, saw a need and an opportunity for her students. Over the course of a few weeks, community partners and funders (Central Oregon Health Quality Alliance, Roundhouse Foundation and Oregon Community Foundation) were able to stand up a free program that would offer a two hour program, two days a week to a group of 20 ELL students from Silver Rail Elementary. The students all live around the Pine Mill apartments (behind Chan’s on 3rd street) where they have zero access to green spaces. The closest park is a 15 minute walk to Kiwanis Park, which requires crossing one of Bend’s busiest streets.
The program provided safe transportation to Kiwanis Park through a ‘walking school bus’ approach, with fun games, self-directed play, and snacks at the park. The program was led by Zavier Borja and Wesley Heredia, both of which reflect the community in which they were serving. This is extremely important for many reasons, but most importantly for parent buy-in (trust) and visual representation for the youth to see. Being able to have conversations in Spanish with the parents made them feel comfortable with us, therefore allowing for trust to build. Also, a lot of the conversations had during the walking school bus included culturally relevant topics. One of my favorite conversations was talking with 8 year old David about our love for Chilaquiles. I could hear it in his voice how excited he was that one, I even knew what they were, but that they too were one of my favorite Mexican dishes. I believe that both David and I found this conversation refreshing.
Jugamos Afuera lasted 5 weeks in the fall with plans to continue through the winter and beyond. We’re proud to have overwhelming support with positive family and participant feedback throughout this program. Many of the families talked about how their kids were getting depressed, bored and lonely staying inside all the time.
“The program gave them a chance to play with friends, get exercise and have fun (like kids should do!)”.
“The program gave my kids a chance to feel FREE.”.
Rebecca Easton shared that she has seen the impacts of the program carry into the students’ academics this year: “I have seen how this program has contributed to school success because the students talk about it in my classes and have excellent attendance! The relationships and connections between students and families really contributes to strengthening the community and motivating students. There are also many academic opportunities which I’ve been able to leverage because I know they are participating in the program. Many of the games you played involve language development. I replicated the games and skills in my on-line classes. Also, we were able to integrate aspects of science, place-based learning, social skills vocabulary and social-emotional development through the park experience.”
We all feel that these are great first steps in not only helping to mitigate barriers associated with COVID, but mitigate barriers associated with outdoor access.