UW system brings back youth summer programs

As colleges and universities ease restrictions aimed at preventing COVID-19 outbreaks, the University of Wisconsin system has announced that it will bring back pre-college and summer programs for young people this summer.

Youth summer programs have long been a staple on campuses in the UW system, typically catering to middle and high school students. Some are academic in nature, aimed at giving children a taste of college life, with stays in dormitories on campus.

Last year, when COVID-19 cases spiked in Wisconsin, campuses across the system either canceled summer programs for youth or moved them online, resulting in lower attendance. In early May, Acting UW System President Tommy Thompson announced that summer programs were returning with additional safety protocols in place.

“The pandemic is not over, but we can safely begin to resume pre-pandemic operations, including summer youth programs and a strong majority of in-person classes this fall,” Thompson said. “We are creating a culture of accountability on our campuses.”

Michael Casbourne is the director of TRIO and pre-college programs at UW-Green Bay. TRIO programs are federally funded initiatives designed to help students from low-income families transition from high school to college. Casbourne said its on-campus TRIO summer program is a six-week residential immersion that will begin in June.

“We use a model that I call the TRIO bubble,” Casbourne said. “So all of our students will be tested. They will go into quarantine for about a week before they are supposed to come to us. Three days before they arrive, they have to upload a negative test result.”

Casbourne said a local bowling alley even agreed to close its doors to the public so TRIO students could have fun while limiting potential infections.

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Jason Mathwig, UW-Green Bay’s director of educational outreach, said the campus will also offer summer camps focused on music, art and science. He said that usually they too offer students the option of staying in dorms, but this year overnight stays will not be an option.

Mathwig said 10 virtual summer camps were offered last year, and he’s happy to offer in-person programs this year.

“Just like school, camps are no different,” Mathwig said. “You can do so much more in person. You can have more hands-on activities with kids. room while an instructor is right there with them to help with problem solving, as well as human-to-human interaction with their counterparts, peers, or other students.”

Elisabeth Arguello, The UW-Oshkosh pre-college coordinator, said her campus offers summer programs for youth focused on pre-college training, as well as medical, business and teaching careers.

She said a rapid pivot to online summer camps last year had affected registrations.

“And sadly, we’ve lost students to the virtual format,” Arguello said. “They want this to be the person they wanted to be able to bring to campus and see it all.”

Editor’s Note: Wisconsin Public Radio is a service of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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