The Community Summer Camp bridged the gap between a private school and the community of East Hills.

  • Two-week camp for elementary learners, designed to address pandemic-related academic and social needs
  • 25 children attended this summer, receiving meals, transportation, and activities
  • Exemplifies programming that connects in-school and out-of-school learning

By Faith Schantz, Contributing Writer for A+Schools

The staff at Imani Christian Academy had considered sponsoring a camp for children in the surrounding community of East Hills in the past. A camp could both serve residents and bridge the perceived gap between “an underserved community and a private Christian school that is sometimes viewed as being beyond their reach,” says CEO and Head of School Paulo Nzambi.

The school charges a “modest” tuition, based on a sliding scale, and lacked the resources to offer a camp. This year, the Covid-19 pandemic pushed them to apply for a Welcome Back! grant, which paid for staff, meals, and transportation for 25 campers for two full weeks. Though the camp was open to Imani students, Nzambi says he and his staff “quite deliberately” called it the Community Summer Camp “to telegraph to the community that this was a camp for you.”

For the campers, who ranged from kindergarteners to fifth graders, instructors designed activities to address pandemic-related gaps, such as fitness routines and penmanship for children who had been sitting in front of keyboards all year. To boost students’ engagement, math and reading were interwoven with the arts. Math incorporated music—for example, teaching the times tables through songs—and visual arts classes mirrored literacy concepts, with activities such as identifying the parts of speech represented in pictures. Twice daily group singing also gave instructors a way to monitor how students were feeling. Children’s willingness to “robustly participate in music,” Nzambi says, can indicate their level of confidence and feeling of unity with the group.

That sense of belonging was especially important because the students were “very, very reserved” after more than a year of isolation, he says. While “parents and caregivers did the best that they could,” his staff needed to help children relearn social and communication cues.

Imani (5)
Imani (2)

Compared to a school, an out-of-school-time provider has “much more freedom to speak to a child, to ask questions, to process, to take [our] time with the child,” which sends the message that “they are truly important and valuable, and that you really care.”

– Paulo Nzambi, Head of School

Nzambi recalls one camper who, at first, didn’t want to be there. “He wouldn’t make eye contact,” Nzambi says. “He had a couple of outbursts in the first two days.” The staff learned that he had recently lost a close relative and had no male family members in his home. At camp, in addition to Nzambi, three of the four instructors were men.

“Having that many men interact with him in a supportive, encouraging, and loving way made a huge impact on him,” Nzambi says, along with their trauma-informed care.

In the East Hills community, where women outnumber men, many children know men only as authority figures. For his campers, Nzambi hopes that “having been in an environment with so many positive, caring, and loving adult African-American male figures allows them to interact differently with authority than they have in the past.”

Imani (4)

Before coming to Imani, Nzambi worked at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, which runs an after-school arts program for teens. Now as head of a school, he has a perspective on what schools and out-of-school-time (OST) providers each have to offer.

An OST provider has “much more freedom to speak to a child, to ask questions, to process, to take [our] time with the child,” which sends the message that “they are truly important and valuable, and that you really care.” OST providers can share examples of programming with schools—such as game-based or arts-infused activities, or ways to use the city’s resources—that are designed to be highly engaging for participants who don’t have to be there.

For their part, schools “do a good job of bringing structure and consistency into the life of children who perhaps don’t have that structure or consistency at home,” he says. They can also “clearly identify those learning standards that you can push towards and reinforce during out-of-school time.”


Imani Christian Academy would use additional funds to conduct camp again, extending it with themed weeks focused on the arts and STEM.

Community Summer Camp was so successful that the staff is considering seeking funding not only to conduct it again, but also to extend it with additional themed weeks featuring the arts and STEM. Nzambi is already imagining the field trips: “We can take them to the art museum. We can perhaps take them to hear a concert,” or, for a STEM week, the CREATE Lab at CMU or ALCOSAN.

One exchange with a student has stayed with him. On the last day, the boy who had come in angry asked to speak to Nzambi. “Why is camp only two weeks long?” he said.

How can we support summer learning through more integrated and scalable systems, like the Community Schools model or a county-wide summer learning system?

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