CINCINNATI — Project Connect is shifting the way it serves the children of Cincinnati Public Schools to meet the demands of a post-pandemic classroom.
The program is part of a federal law that requires school districts to remove barriers affecting children experiencing homelessness, according to program manager Rebekah Beach.
She said Project Connect served about 3,000 children experiencing homelessness last year, and that number is growing.
"This year has been a little different because our students are not in one shelter location; they're actually displaced to hotels so that the shelters are able to socially distance families,” Beach said. “They know they're transient. We hear that a lot, that they move a lot.”
Beach said the goal is not only to catch up on academics during the summer but also to mitigate the impact of the trauma students are experiencing.
“Especially this year, we've seen a gap in livable wages and affordable housing," she said.
Students start each morning by getting some exercise. Then they head to the cafeteria line.
"I did not notice as much in prior years that a lot of our children are hungry,” Beach said. “They come here hungry, and when they leave, they ask for food for their parents, which kind of breaks my heart."
While they enjoy breakfast, teacher Justin Harris starts teaching. He said most of the kids don’t realize they don’t have a home.
“They're kids," Harris said. "They're regular kids and they like having fun, like doing things that all kids like to do, and we just really have fun together, working together and building each other up."
He’s honest with the students. Harris said they know they're here because they have work to do — academics in the morning and fun, outdoor enrichment programs in the afternoon.
"Sometimes even when we're supposed to go and kind of do some more fun things, they're asking, ‘Can we read this one more passage? Can we do these couple more problems? Can you show me how to multiply fractions?’ and things like that," Harris said. "Anytime a kid wants to learn how to multiply fractions, that's the place for me."
It's not just academics and field trips: Beach is most proud of a partnership with Swim Safe that takes children who are afraid of the water and teaches them how to swim in just six weeks.
“We really hope the camp allows parents the opportunity for parents to look for employment, look for housing and do what they need to do to be able to become in a better situation," Beach said.