Summer Squad Proves To Be A Vital Connection For RI Kids

By Jennifer Bray















Worm hotels, a one-eyed dog named Leo and drum classes are just some of the thing’s kids are learning at the North Kingstown Summer Squad program.


45 children have been enrolled in the Summer Squad for the past six weeks.


“Thanks to the generous $8,000 funding from National Grid, we have been able to offer a safe, educational and fun program to students ages 5-13,” said Cindy Bowe, the North Kingstown School Department Office of Family Learning Coordinator.


While COVID-19 has closed countless summer camps and programs, those in Summer Squad are thriving.


“We are thrilled with the way things are going, even under stringent Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) guidelines,” Bowe said.


For parents, the chance to have their children enrolled in camp has been a lifeline.


“All the stars aligned for this and it’s been a really special program,” said Erin Scott. The mother of four, has three of her kids participating in the Summer Squad. Her 7-year-old William attends camp, and her two older kids, 17-year-old Riley and 19-year-old Jordan, work there as counsellors.


“We decided to enroll William in the program, because of  the lack of schooling (due to the pandemic),” said Erin Scott, who added that her son is on the spectrum and has social anxieties. “We took a chance with it and he’s loving it, it’s been a really awesome program for him.” Scott pointed out that the COVID-19 crisis meant more than just the loss of education when schools shut down this spring. “All of these kids are missing out on so many things, not just the learning, but the social and emotional aspects as well.”


According to Scott, the wide scope of education keeps William engaged. “Every day the counsellors have thought of clever activities and games to play; combining science, math and reading.”


“It’s a great way to support a school close to one of our sites and it supports both STEM learning and employee volunteerism,” said Marisa Albanese, Principal Program Manager for the Community & Customer Management team in Rhode Island.


Lily O’Connor just turned 9 on August 1st. She loves sharks, swimming and Star Wars books. Summer Squad has meant a much-needed return to routine and reconnecting with other kids, said her Mom, Jessica O’Connor.


“Lily is the kind of kid who really needs structure and she was nervous that this camp might not happen because of COVID this year,” O’Connor said. She and her husband work full-time and also have three other kids, a 19-year-old and 15-year-old twins. “Yesterday Lily made slime at camp out of shaving cream, she came home and made everyone look at it. She never comes home and said this was a bad day at camp.”


To celebrate Lily’s birthday, O’Connor is bringing enough cheese and pepperoni pizzas for the thirteen kids, counsellors and teacher in Lily’s pod. “There are so many projects and activities every day that it’s really helped her enjoy camp more, without this camp she’d be home fighting with her sisters,” said O’Connor.


Lauren Annicelli is a teacher with the North Kingstown School Department and is working at Summer Squad. “I think the kids are really happy to be here and just socialize and interact with one another by being outside and playing,” she said, explaining that some of them never left their homes during quarantine. “Allowing them to discover play and be imaginative is really great to see – I’ve missed them too!”


Annicelli’s one-eyed rescue dog, named Leo, comes to camp every day and the kids help take care of him. “They are constantly taking care of him, taking him for walks and filling his water bowl,” she said.


Leo is also the subject of a camp project about bullying. Annicelli adopted the 13-year-old dog from a rescue group in Georgia after he was attacked by other dogs and subsequently lost his eye. Annicelli’s group is writing a story about Leo, with the theme of bullying highlighted. Another pod of campers will edit the story and a different group will print and put the book together. “This is something I really wanted to do after I saw how the kids were relating to Leo,” Annicelli said. “This book about identifying and saying no to bullying is teaching these kids how to be good citizens and community members.”


All of the kids in camp spend at least 15 minutes reading every day. “Thanks to National Grid we bought each child their own book,” said Cindy Bowe. “It was tough getting to this point with everything going on, but seeing the kids, they just needed to be here, it’s been wonderful.”

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