As social distancing continues, many camps and classes have made the decision to transition to virtual programming. For the majority of organizations this is new territory and it can be a challenge to ensure virtual offerings are accessible to all types of students. Whether the barriers are due to technology access, learning abilities or family situation, there are strategies to increase equity. Below are some tips on tackling common issues.
Survey your campers/students about their access and needs.
Before you begin planning and administering your program, it’s a good idea to survey participants to see where they stand in terms of hardware and internet access. Once you know what you’re starting with, you can plan out your programming. For example, if most campers have access to smart phones, but not computers, you’ll want to make your content mobile friendly. If, on the other hand, internet access is sparse, you may want to focus your programming on printed materials and supplies.
Plan how campers/students will access content.
For some, the barrier will be access to devices or internet. For others, learning or physical challenges may limit their participation. Depending on your unique situation, you may need to get creative with how campers access content. For low-resource individuals, consider working with school districts to borrow laptops or contact internet service providers to see if they can provide free service. If your budget allows, you may even be able to distribute devices and wifi hotspots to needy campers.
If much of your content will be online, try to make it mobile friendly so that it’s accessible from multiple devices like phones and iPads.
And finally, keep in mind that accessing content is not just about devices. Some students simply won’t have reliable online access or they may not have the adult supervision needed to log on. Consider putting together ideas for a “camp in a box” or create activities that can be printed and mailed or viewed on a DVD.
Provide training for counselors and instructors.
Although your staff will be behind computers (or desks) instead of on-site, it’s still essential to make sure they’re trained properly. Your training program will vary depending on your unique situation, but consider focusing on celebrating diversity and creating a welcoming atmosphere.
Plan for varied backgrounds and learning abilities, whether that’s access to resources, parental involvement or physical capabilities. What modifications can e-counselors suggest to make the activities more inclusive? For example, older teens with access to the internet could connect on a private Facebook page or message board. For younger campers (or those without devices), a pen pal program might make more sense.
Foster a connected community.
Consider kick-starting your program with an online orientation session for parents and guardians. During the meeting, give an overview of the program along with expectations. Share key activities and milestones with parents ahead of time so they can get involved and provide guidance, if necessary. If some individuals will have less supervision than others, you may want to find a way to give them extra attention (a buddy program, perhaps?). Finally, consider having families sign a behavior agreement to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding bullying, harassment and other no-nos.