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Thu Pham- Story of Us
Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment (BRYE) began in 1987 as a resource for Boston’s Southeast Asian refugee community. Though needs have evolved, BRYE continues to serve Dorchester’s immigrant community, especially the Vietnamese, Dominican, Haitian, and Cape Verdean populations. During the school year, BRYE offers several afterschool services, such as 1-on-1 mentoring, tutoring, and small group settings that explore hands-on curriculum (I am involved with the latter). When summer rolls around, BRYE becomes a branch of the Summer Urban Program (SUP) and provides high-quality, low-cost all-day programming to combat learning loss and provide emotional support. A typical day of BRYE Summer is as follows: mornings of academic enrichment, afternoons of educational field trips, and artistic, cultural, and service-learning workshops throughout the week, along with two overnight camping trips and a day-long final trip (in an in-person setting). BRYE is the only non-Boston Public School program that is recognized as a substitute for summer school, helping many of its students get promoted to the next grade level.
Because my project focuses on the summer component of BRYE, I will focus on its organizational structure during this period of time. The senior (or full-time) staff consists of two directors and eight senior counselors (SCs). Directors provide logistical and administrative support to the camp, such as hiring staff and creating contingency plans. During the summer, SCs lead classrooms of 8-10 campers in self-designed curriculum in English development, math, science, and other subjects. Next, the junior staff consists of 8-10 junior counselors (JCs), who are high schoolers from the Dorchester area (and have usually been campers at some point) and co-teach classrooms with SCs. Finally, there are about 70-90 campers each year, ranging from 6-13 years old. I have avoided including a picture of a "hierarchy," as BRYE staff is very non-hierarchical and instead more of a collaboration. To many of us, the only difference in the roles is the time commitment and type of work (e.g. logistical for directors and instructional for SCs and JCs).
BRYE has gone through some sweeping changes in the past year. It is no secret that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted immigrant and refugee families, which has been reflected in many reports and pieces of literature. From personal experience, my fellow counselors and I have spent hours talking to these families, listening to their worries. For example, their children are being ignored by their teachers and cast aside in the online school system, their English learning process has been significantly disrupted, and, through it all, parents do not know how to help their children. Many of the BRYE students have returned to hybrid learning, but the effects of the pandemic may last long after we shift into the “new normal.”
Unfortunately, despite all of the extra attention brought to these inequities, BRYE is limited in the services it can offer. Since Summer 2020, BRYE has been running in a remote format: field trips have become virtual field trips; classroom materials have become technology, science, and art at-home learning kits; and morning opening circles have become small shapes arranged in a circle on Powerpoint slides. Despite its limited format, many BRYE volunteers and students (and those from similar PBHA programs) can attest that the program has been better than anyone expected, especially for children who have been underserved by distance learning.
BRYE will be facing unique challenges this summer. For one, almost all of the staff (who are in high school and college) and students are facing some degree of Zoom fatigue, and are less likely to be as enthusiastic about returning to a mostly remote program. On a similar note, many programs in Dorchester are returning to mostly in-person programming, and it is understandable that many families would prefer that instead. This dynamic does create some degree of “competition” or uncertainty for who can return to our program. Finally, as alluded to above, many of our students, through no fault of their own, would have faced an enormous amount of learning loss over the past year.
As BRYE approaches its second COVID summer, we will need to intentionally communicate with families, staff, and other stakeholders to best understand how we can continue to best serve the Dorchester community and provide the best experience for staff.