By Richard Berg, Camp Colley Foundation
The temperature in Arizona is rising and so is the level of disregard for following commonsense guidelines for mitigating the impact of the coronavirus in our communities.
Is it possible that people are unaware of the 130,000+ American lives that have been lost with the more than 1,700 here in Arizona, due to complications of COVID-19?
As a professional social worker supporting underprivileged children for more than 10 years, I feel disheartened by the displayed priorities of many of my fellow Arizonans. COVID-19 has been hard on us all; unemployment has reached record levels, food scarcity is causing many to go hungry, mental health challenges have skyrocketed, major life events and celebrations have been cancelled or postponed, and in-person connections with loved ones have been put off indefinitely.
One group particularly challenged by this pandemic is children, especially those growing up in poverty.
Arizona schools were closed on March 15. The impacts of this closure are not fully understood but they are undoubtedly dramatic. School is an integral component of children’s positive growth. Beyond providing formal education, schools help children develop healthy social-emotional skills, learn self-regulation, establish leadership skills and build positive relationships with adults.
Did you know that nearly 500,000 children in Arizona rely on their schools for daily nutritious meals? Because of school closures, these children are at risk of suffering from hunger on top of long-term delays to learning and achieving developmental milestones.
Furthermore, Arizona’s families depend on summer programs and camps to fill developmental and educational gaps for their children to ensure they stay on track when the school year ends. This need is greater than ever after they have missed more than two months of classroom time. Sadly, countless summer programs and camps have been forced to cancel as a result of COVID-19. When my own organization, the Camp Colley Foundation, made the excruciating decision not to hold camp, we were heartbroken knowing that it meant that 480 underserved children would not have the transformative sleep-away nature camp experiences we have provided to more than 4,000 Phoenix children since 2000.
Teachers and school administrators have been incredibly flexible and resilient in their heroic efforts to provide ongoing education to their students since schools shut their doors in March. Governor Doug Ducey has announced that Arizona schools would reopen in mid-August with enhanced safety protocols in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. However, classroom-based education could very well be limited or still be cancelled if COVID-19 rates continue to spike in the coming weeks.
While some children have the necessary tools to overcome the obstacles created by alternative remote learning, the half-million kids in our state experiencing poverty likely lack the resources needed to effectively learn online. For every child, online learning cannot replace the valuable interpersonal and social-emotional growth that happens in safe and supportive classrooms.
Photos and news stories highlighting bars, restaurants, pools and lakes flooded with patrons are troubling. Such crowding has led to a second wave of COVID-19, directly limiting children’s ability to return to school this fall.
Ending this health crisis should be prioritized over any individual’s yearning for a taste of pre-COVID-19 life. We can support local businesses without jeopardizing public health. We must put community over self and make smart decisions that will support all Arizonans’ long-term health and well-being.
For our children’s sake, please stay home as much as possible, continue social distancing, wear a mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and practice good hygiene.
These simple acts will have a lifelong impact on our state’s next generation.
Richard Berg has led the Camp Colley Foundation since early 2019, as the organization has expanded its mission from funding camper scholarships for underserved Phoenix children and capital improvements at Camp Colley into full program operations. Camp Colley, the City of Phoenix’s residential summer camp, was founded in 2000 to ensure all children in Phoenix have the opportunity to experience nature for positive learning and growth. For information visit www.campcolley.org.