West Haven makes children's summer program free for residents

The West Haven Green

The West Haven Green

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

WEST HAVEN — The children of West Haven will have a variety of opportunities to play outside this summer — all for free.

Officials say the reason is because of a need to provide social and emotional development through play and socialization — something greatly inhibited during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“A lot of research is showing students who didn’t have in-person instruction are in desperate need of that social-emotional support and re-engaging with the school community,” said Marissa Acampora, the school district’s COVID-19 liaison.

The district is spending roughly $500,000 of its almost $20 million in federal educational pandemic relief funding on providing free summer programs for at-risk students — or the students who were most disconnected from learning this year.

“We’re giving them a chance to recover from what was a traumatizing year and doing credit recovery and extended school year. Usually credit recovery is at a fee, but this time we removed the fee and added transportation,” Acampora said.

Acampora said there also will be programs to provide bilingual education over summer, something that was largely hindered by pandemic protocols such as shortened days and virtual learning.

“We really thought long and hard about what would appeal to our kids and how could we make the summer offerings seem exciting and fun as opposed to summer school, because who gets excited about that?” she said. “We have offerings like STEM and forensics programs offered at our new high school’s lab so students coming up into the high school can see the new building and have an experience with a forensics camp, and we also offer sports-related camps.

“What we did with those is entice our students, to give them face time with guidance counselors to talk about their academic trajectory so they’re on track for graduation,” Acampora said.

The district also is offering credit programs with other recreational activities added on, such as theater arts, cheering and stepping.

The city’s summer camp offerings also are being offered for free this year; parents who already paid the fees are eligible for a full reimbursement.

“We’re just excited to be getting the kids back and letting them be kids outside and engage with each other, to be active and breathe the fresh air,” said city Parks and Recreation Director Mark Paine.

Mayor Nancy Rossi said the city prioritized free access to summer recreational programs to benefit children in the city.

“We were concerned the children are struggling, so we wanted to make it as easy as possible not to be charging this year because of the fact there’s many people that lost their jobs or were laid off, and not everybody is back to work,” she said.

brian.zahn@hearstmediact.com