Ukiah Unified is working with their community partners to offer free after-school programs for any Ukiah Unified student ages 5 - 18 through the City’s Summer Safari program and SPACE camps. The number one priority for the collaboration is to provide a safe, fun, and relaxing experience for students and offer a much-needed break for parents.
The Ukiah Unified Summer Camps and Summer Safari partnership programs are in-person, 5-days a week, and last for six weeks. 464 students and their parents are being served through this seamless partnership at Frank Zeek, Grace Hudson, and Nokomis Elementary Schools.
Ukiah Unified Superintendent Deb Kubin commented, “Ukiah Unified is fortunate to have amazing partnerships with so many local organizations. These partnerships have been the cornerstones of building our strong, resilient community and a culture of teamwork. We’ve worked together to help restore hope and empower our students and families with these amazing programs. I’m inspired by the camaraderie and great ideas that happen when we all get together to work on what might appear to be insurmountable at first, only to become a reality through hard work.”
The Summer Safari program offers exercise, arts and crafts, activities, and games, directed by local teens and young people employed by the City of Ukiah. The programs filled up within a few days after they were announced, which prompted the City to open up hiring and add more staff so all families who wanted to be involved could do so.
Nokomis Summer Camp lead teacher Julie Zaniboni said, “It’s been wonderful to see students transitioning from Summer Camp immediately over to Summer Safari by simply being escorted over to the City check-in stations without leaving our campus. Summer Safari is the perfect solution for parents who need additional activities for their children in the afternoons. I’ve witnessed firsthand the relief wash over parent’s faces as I explain that their students can start attending Summer Safari right away free of charge.”
A typical day for students attending Ukiah Unified’s Summer Camp Program, which includes Summer Safari, begins at 7:45 a.m. when students are dropped off at a Ukiah Unified Summer Camp to start the academic portion of their day. Then, at around 11:45 a.m., students are escorted to Summer Safari check-in stations and provided a hot meal. Their afternoons are spent playing, doing arts & crafts, and even enjoying water activities. Ukiah Unified transportation takes Summer Safari students for swimming at Ukiah High School. Swim instructors are even on hand for students who don’t know how to swim.
Ms. Zaniboni goes on to say, “The teamwork I’ve seen between Safari staff and Summer Camp staff should provide a high level of comfort to parents knowing that their children’s specific needs are being met as they go from one program to another. I’ve been extremely impressed with the level of care and professionalism of our Summer Safari counselors.”
The Summer Safari program also offers a tremendous opportunity for Ukiah teenagers to learn valuable skills and earn money. The City employs approximately 50 teenagers as counselors, many of whom are Ukiah High School students, providing them with job experience. Almost half of the counselors are bi-lingual, another essential link to Ukiah families.
Lupita Duran, or Tapatillo as she is known at camp, is a new counselor working for the City, and she is thrilled to work with children. “Being able to be there for the kids is the best thing about working at Summer Safari,” said Tapatillo. “You get to see a lot of kids every day, and if they’re in a bad mood, we get to lift them up and make them happy. I like to cheer people up, especially kids. If I can help them, that’s just the best!” Her favorite thing to do with the kids is dance!
Ukiah Unified is also partnering with SPACE to provide a series of free 10-day sessions serving 166 Ukiah Unified students. Sessions span from June 7th through July 2nd and are held in the SPACE courtyard, theater auditorium, lobbies, and dance studio. The SPACE Program continues to be a masked campus except at snack time when the students eat outside in pods.
Dance, Drama, & Art; Teen Evening Camp; Sketch Comedy; and Dance Theater are all classes offered. SPACE Camps happen throughout the day with morning, afternoon, and evening schedules. Each class has an opportunity for the kids to show what they’ve learned at an informal performance on the last day of their camp. Initially, the open showings were outdoors in the parking lot, but now, as the summer heat is ramping up, most shows are in the theater, all masked and socially distanced. Many SPACE Alumni have returned this summer to be Guest Teachers at the various camps, including Bonnie Lockhart, Casey Frey, India Frey, Devon Near-Hill, Gwynivere Rosenberg-Hook, Aisha Walls, Xander Gifford, and Emma VanPatten.
Laurel Near, SPACE co-founder, said, “Ukiah Unified School District had the incredible foresight to fund in-person summer camps for their students and has set the bar high for prioritizing the needs of children and families. At a time when youth have been isolated for over a year, the Superintendent and the Board had the vision to see that youth would need opportunities to re-connect with other children.”
One parent commented, “My teenage girl has been sitting playing video games in her dark room for months. I had to really encourage her to join camp because she was too shy to be around other kids. She didn’t want to attend. After the first day, she came home beaming and excited!”
Children involved in summer camps experience learning in many unexpected ways. Independence, resiliency, self-esteem, and confidence are all benefits of summer camps, but after the isolation of the pandemic, things like building social skills and nurturing friendships might be even more crucial.
“SPACE Camps have been an excellent opportunity for us to try out a program that we were always interested in but not able to attend,” said parent Brianna Dominicelli. “My son would never have tried sketch comedy or dance, but this was perfect for what he needed.”
The benefits of the after-school partnerships are profound. A grandparent shared, “My grandson had been experiencing intense anxiety, not wanting to participate in anything, and having regular meltdowns. He had been in counseling, but the SPACE camp was the missing piece—connecting with other kids. By the end of the session, he was dancing in the front row!”