ICYMI: DC Summer Program 2022

Written and Compiled by: Diana Tran, DC Middle School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

After two long years of navigating through the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asian American LEAD was happy to bring back in-person summer programs for our youth. In Washington DC, youth joined our team for a whopping six weeks of summer programs, four days each week! Can you believe we didn’t run out of ideas and fun activities for all of them? Neither can we! Each day, our students joined us for a myriad of activities, including staff- and peer-led energizers, leadership development, team-building exercises, challenge days, identity exploration workshops, and field trips.

It was such a privilege to work with over 50 youth from across the District and engage with them on a day-to-day basis. The memories that were made and the friendships that were forged over the summer are truly unforgettable. Now that summer programs are over, our team has been spending some time reflecting on some of the highlights of our 2022 Summer Program. So, in case you missed it… Join us as we reminisce on each week of our summer program with our incredible group of student leaders.

The first week of summer was spent at the University of the District of Columbia for orientation. Orientation Week 1 is designed for us to have extra time with our high school students to focus on leadership development and develop community guidelines before our middle school students join us for Orientation Week 2. During Week 1, our high school cohort went on a field trip to SkyZone in Springfield, Virginia.

There, we discovered that we have some serious daredevils in our midst, in addition to a future NBA Star! Don’t believe it? Take a look!

In AALEAD programs, we have the wonderful opportunity to work with a diverse group of students across the DMV, and creating a space to foster those connections is a valuable asset.  After the first week, we welcomed our middle school students and started to build our community. As many can imagine, meeting students across different cultures, ages, and backgrounds can feel overwhelming, especially for our middle school students who may not be used to being in large group environments. We believe that our students can overcome anything with time and continued efforts.

Growth happens right beyond our zone of comfort – and our middle school students showed just that. Right from the beginning of their time in summer programs, they were faced with the everyday challenge of coming out of their shell, meeting new people, and learning to ask questions in times of uncertainty. One of the highlights of Orientation Week 2 was the field trip to the University of Maryland where students not only had the chance to engage with their peers from DC, but also with AALEADers from both Maryland and Virginia.

At UMD, students visited the TerpZone – UMD’s premiere student lounge area fully equipped with a food court, theatre, billiard tables, bowling alley, video game room, and so much more. By the end of the day, they did not want to leave. Time really flies when you’re having fun!

After concluding orientation, Summer Programs were hosted at Jackson Reed High School for the remainder of the summer. Here, students were split into two teams: 1) Team SUPERSLAYRRS_, led by Maddy and Diana; and 2) Team > 1 (Greater than One), led by Sadé and Natie. Nothing like a little bit of competition and team rivalry to really give our students a boost!

Together, they developed their team chants and their raison d’être. Team SUPERSLAYRRS_ brought the confidence right out of the gate! They believed that they were destined to win every challenge and show their strengths as a team of talented individuals. One might describe them as chaotic, but they would have you believe that they were just confident and fun-seeking. Almost in sharp contrast to the SUPERSLAYRRS_, Team > 1 has always emphasized the importance of working together and realizing that while each individual brings their own strengths to the table, the real power was in their collective energy and ability to uplift each other.

During Week 3 of Summer Programs, DC AALEADers spent a lot of time outdoors during Week 3 in the fresh air and summer sun. They continued to forge their team identities in the Olympics Challenge Day and connected with nature on a hike and picnic field trip.

These students were always up for the challenge. In the beginning, Team > 1 really gave the SUPERSLAYRRS_ a run for their money, winning almost every Challenge Day. Despite being split into two groups, students had the opportunity to intermix across these team dynamics and build meaningful friendships in other spaces. During Week 4 of Summer Programs, students visited Bond’s Escape Room in Arlington, Virginia where their teamwork was truly put to the test as they forged ahead in their own adventures in small group settings.

Natie’s group (above) entered the Sleepover Slaughterhouse and made it out alive despite all the spooky thrills and terrors of this escape room. Diana’s group (below) took advantage of their wits and communication to uncover the mysteries hidden within the Elven Forest. Congratulations to all of our students for putting their heads together and emerging as victors!

Outside of the escape room, students continued to form strong relationships through a variety of activities, including energizer activities, workshops, and games facilitated by our staff members through the last two weeks of summer programs. Whether it be creating complex Rube Goldberg machines, playing Ultimate Uno, or hosting their own games like musical chairs, zombies, or ninjas, our students know how to bring an element of fun to every situation! Each day with our AALEADers is truly a blessing filled with many smiles and endless laughter.

Above: Students working on Rube Goldberg machines. They were tasked with creating mechanical “machines” to get a ping pong ball into a cup with the added twist of trying to make it as complicated as possible. With only 30 minutes and a limited amount of supplies, students had to get creative to ensure that they could accomplish their goals. At the end of their creation time, each group had only two attempts to show their peers that their machines worked.

One of the most rewarding aspects of working with our students is getting to watch each of our student leaders blossom through the multitude of activities we do together. As we look back, the last couple of weeks seem like such a blur. We did so much together. Over the summer, AALEAD partnered with APIAVote and Dr. Rossina Zamora Liu from the University of Maryland. With APIAVote, students learned about zines and about the power of self-expression as a form of advocacy, civic engagement, freedom, and justice. Through counter-storytelling workshops, our youth were able to explore their socio-cultural identities and compose their own narratives through art.

Above: APIAVote guest workshop in DC AALEAD Summer Program 2022; Below (Left to Right): Dr. Rossina Zamora Liu presenting to students about counter-storytelling and introducing different projects for students to explore their identities through artistic expression, and student works.

These workshops were an integral part of our Summer Showcase, where students compressed all of the skills and knowledge that they gained over the course of the summer into one night to share with their friends, family, and community.

Can you believe that students only spent four hours on their projects from start to finish? Diamonds really are created under pressure! We are so proud of all of their hard work. At Summer Showcase, we also unveiled the “winners” of the summer competition between the SUPERSLAYRRS_ and Team > 1. Can you take a guess at which team came out on top? Read until the very end to find out for yourself!

Left to Right: Team > 1 collective interpretation of “Crossroads: Not all who wander are lost.”; AALEAD group project about intersectional identities as Asian Americans, a creative interpretation of bridging the gap between two worlds; SUPERSLAYRRS_’s collective interpretation of “Crossroads: Not all who wander are lost.”

Thank you to all of the family, friends, and loved ones who were able to join us at our Summer Showcase in support of our youth and their incredible efforts over a span of six weeks! Although the Summer Showcase was a culminating event, we could not let our youth go without one more day filled with pure joy and fun. On August 5, DC AALEAD youth closed out the summer with a field trip to Six Flags America. We had a wonderful time on all the spins, loops, and ups and downs – quite literally.

And now, the moment you have all been waiting for… Drum roll, please…

By the end of it, SUPERSLAYRRS_ took home the metaphorical trophy!

Regardless of the numbers on the scoreboard, both teams always put up a fight – from start to finish. For the AALEAD team, the greatest victory was in exploring our theme of Crossroads together. While AALEAD may be a small chapter of our youths’ lives, we will always remember the insights all of our students brought to the table. Whether it be the recollection of their individual lived experiences outside of AALEAD’s walls or the memories cultivated inside the program, every moment shared with our students was truly enriching. We thank all of them for sharing their unique stories with us and for giving us the opportunity to learn from them as much as they have learned from us.

We would like to show our gratitude and appreciation to all of our partners, volunteers, staff, families, and youth for everything that they do. Without you all, the work we do would not have been possible nor as impactful. From the AALEAD Family – Thank you for your continued support!

Special thanks to: the University of the District of Columbia Staff, Brandon Hall, Jackson Reed High School Staff & Security, Dr. Rossina Zamora Liu, Dr. William Liu, Jessica Nguyen, Mike Messina & Julie Wu of APIAVote, Bowen’s Bus Service, Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library Staff, SkyZone, Mike Golze, University of Maryland, TerpZone, Bond’s Escape Room – Arlington, Six Flags America, Satay Club

Email Newsletters with VerticalResponse