As you might guess, this year’s freshmen did not sleep in churches around the city on SING. They did not wake up early on Friday morning (after staying up too late the night before) to clear weeds from a community garden, or sort clothes for a refugee thrift shop, or tutor elementary age children.
Because of COVID, many things had to change about the signature freshmen experience that allows 9th graders to get to know the wider Atlanta community and give them a chance to bond with their advisory peers.
I met with Ms. Turner, Director of Civic and Global Engagement, who played a big role in organizing SING this year.
She told me how they wanted to keep the SING program even if everybody was virtual because it is something that has been happening for 25 years and it is such an important experience for freshmen. She told me they started talking about it “pretty early on in March, but it wasn't until June until we realized that we would still be virtual in the Fall.” It was important to them for the 9th graders to get to know their community members.
During SING, the 9th grade did a number of different activities. We met on zoom with some leaders in our community and they talked to us about inclusivity and some of their own personal experiences. They informed us about some of the topics of inequality that had happened over the summer.
Then, over google meet, we interviewed different community members depending on your advisory. My advisory interviewed some YMCA leaders, Jill Moore and Mantil Weeks. They are both vice presidents at the YMCA and after talking to them a little more, I learned that volleyball and basketball were actually founded by the YMCA, which is something I didn’t know before. YMCA has done a really good job with helping kids even through COVID times. In fact, they were open at the beginning of quarantine and were able to stay open to this day, which is very impressive.
Ms. Weeks said that her favorite part of her job was that “every day is different and I am constantly growing” as a person. For the first 25 years of her job, she didn’t think it was worthy and her “parents didn’t think that working at The Y was a real job.”
After we interviewed them, we had a fun lunch break where we met with our senior pals and had pizza outside. It was a good break from the busy day until we went back inside to wrap everything up.
We split into groups to break down what we learned during the interview and Olivia Aiken and I made a drawing to visually portray the experience.
Olivia told me that SING was a little different than she originally expected because they didn’t sleep over, but she understood the reasoning behind it. She said that her favorite part of SING was “making the drawing for YMCA” after meeting and talking with them over zoom.
Ms. Turner said that advisory bonding was another element that they wanted to translate into this new version. It helped that the day of SING was also the first day that most 9th graders were back on campus.
While trying to plan out SING and retain the key elements of advisory bonding and community service experience, they went through a lot of different ideas, but “ruled out stuff really quickly.” They couldn’t bring outsiders (community members) onto campus. Though they did think about sending out small groups to the community sites, or having one day off campus outdoors, they concluded that it would be best to just keep the students on campus. Also, she mentioned that “given the important conversations of inequality over the summer,” they needed to look at some of the material at the Center for Civil and Human Rights to help “address that situation.”
One of the biggest challenges that they had to face was “making sure that everyone felt included, whether they were virtual or in-person.” They didn’t only need to work with the virtual 9th graders, but the virtual SDLC students and pals as well.
According to Ms. Turner, they’ve gotten great feedback and that “people were very understanding.” While she felt very sad in the beginning because she usually loved hearing groups talking about their time working with the community and their experience with nonprofits, she didn’t think it would happen this year given the current circumstances. However, she still got to hear about good experiences, which was an awesome surprise.
Towards the end of her interview, I asked her if there was going to be “follow-up” SING for the 9th-grade class and she told me that they were “hoping for a day in April.” They also took into consideration the feedback they received and they think it would be good to meet with the community members the students interviewed face to face.
Olivia Aiken agrees. “I really hope it happens,” she said.