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PBHA Boston-Based Summer Urban Program Convenes Virtually

Phillips Brooks House stands in the northwest corner of Harvard Yard and houses several College public service programs.
Phillips Brooks House stands in the northwest corner of Harvard Yard and houses several College public service programs. By Delano R. Franklin
By Simon J. Levien, Crimson Staff Writer

Phillips Brooks House Association’s Summer Urban Program will begin virtually this Monday for roughly 550 Boston and Cambridge students.

Unlike many Harvard-affiliated summer programs, SUP — which is typically comprised of 10 summer camps across the Greater Boston area — has continued despite the coronavirus pandemic.

SUP group officers Allison S. Barker ’22 and Thomas C. Phan said they hope to continue delivering an enriching bonding and learning experience for campers. Roughly 100 undergraduates — many from Harvard — will staff the program, after SUP received an uptick in staff applications.

When both Harvard and Cambridge Public Schools shut down in-person learning in March, Phan said they immediately began contingency planning for SUP.

“There was a lot of frustration and confusion going on,” Phan said. “Finally we realized that having SUP virtually online was the best idea.”

Phan said he expected one-third fewer students to enroll in SUP compared to previous years as many families who are serviced by PBHA programs were hit hard by the pandemic and are waiting on government reopening guidance.

“A lot of parents are waiting to hear what Boston’s gonna do next,” Barker said. “They have to go back to work, then they can’t have their children on the computer.”

Fahedur Fahed ’22, who co-directs one of the larger SUP camps, said he is reaching out to families offering “an array of services” should they need additional support during the public health crisis.

PBHA President Meherina Khan ’21 said PBHA will provide technology packages with devices and WiFi hotspots for students. Barker and Phan added that students will also receive “care packages” including learning materials such as notebooks, art supplies, and pedometers.

Barker added that she hopes SUP can balance computer learning with at-home physical activities, such as coloring and exercise.

Fahed added that he is interfacing with Cambridge Public Schools superintendent Kenneth N. Salim to fill in educational gaps in summer programming. CPS will also offer virtual programs for students over the summer.

Phan said he is concerned about maintaining social bonds virtually since students cannot attend in-person camps.

“SUP is really a family,” he said. “How do you create the sense of community when you can’t be hanging out together or when you can’t spend all day at your campsite together?”

Barker and Phan said virtual learning also has its benefits, including virtual field trips and inviting speakers they otherwise could not have. SUP can provide more individualized attention to campers this summer since they plan on lower enrollment, Barker said.

“There’s still that kind of connection between the campers and their camp because a lot of these campers will come to this camp for years and years and then be JCs or junior counselors,” Barker added.

—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at simon.levien@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.

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