Tech nonprofit Maydm and Public Health Madison & Dane County are partnering to lead an initiative to encourage students to safely social distance. Through July 12, Creative During COVID will host biweekly social media challenges for students to engage and win prizes.
The project aims to engage Dane County youth in social-distancing-focused activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. In collaboration with community partners like UW-Madison Office of Precollege and Youth Programming, United Way of Dane County, Madison Out-of-School Time, Goodman Community Center, Asset Builders / Go4it!, YWCA, the Middleton Youth Center, and the Urban League of Greater Madison, the project grants access to fun and exciting challenges and prizes for students to participate in.
“They were saying kids were still on the basketball courts and doing business as usual and not taking the pandemic seriously,” UW Madison Office of Precollege and Youth Programming Director Prenicia Clifton said. “We wanted to find a way to get the word out and find activities to engage the youth, help them social distance, and help them understand that this was a real thing.”
On their Facebook and Instagram pages, Creative During COVID runs biweekly challenges focused on finding ways to be creative and have fun during time at home and distributes prizes for submissions. While spreading the word about the page to other community members, local leaders hope to encourage Dane County residents to continue practicing safe social distancing measures.
Recognizing the potential consequences young people could face if they are out and not following social distancing recommendations, Fitchburg Alder Joe Maldonado emphasized the importance of initiating the conversation about safety with youth.
“We wanted to minimize any potential conflict with law enforcement where consequences could be punitive and make sure it’s youth-driven and creative. I’ve been working with students my whole career, working with really little kids. I get it and I know why it’s very tempting to just go out and see your friends,” Maldonado said.
Throughout the past few weeks, the initiative has hosted challenges focusing on the concept of how students are staying creatively entertained during quarantined by encouraging students to submit photos and videos of art, writing, music, and dances they have made during quarantine.
“I think it’s the technology overload. They spend all day online doing their classes and now the recreational part is online as well,” Clifton said. “The good thing about this is that we’ve encouraged them to show us how to social distance through videos which will hopefully get them out and moving, but having to be online all day anyway has definitely been a challenge.”
In preparation for warm summer months, which might lead to more in-person interaction for young people, Creative During COVID aims to offer students meaningful and fun activity while social distancing and expanding the conversation around staying safe, committee members said. In the midst of COVID-19, many actively seek ways creatively and physically engaged and this page aims to elevate the importance of that activity.
In addition to the Creative During COVID social distancing campaign, community leaders have developed alternative activities for youth that continue to aid them in personal and professional development. Umoja Magazine is currently leading Umoja Youth Voices, a project in which students can share their stories through writing, voice recording, and even a visual art class with Jerry Jordan, a Madison artist.
During the month of June, Black Excellence MMSD will also offer free cooking classes to students every Thursday of the month. Students will get the ingredients delivered to their homes, so interaction with a professional chef can happen in real time.
Beyond the social distancing challenge, Clifton shared her hopes of continuing to engage students in a way that “gets them ready for life in a way they won’t traditionally get it in the classroom.” She detailed her excitement in “taking the social distancing challenge to a whole other level of engagement” and continuing to establish strong positive relationships with students in which they can truly make their voices heard..
The organizers of Creative During COVID emphasized the importance and critical contribution young people make in stopping the spread of COVID-19, and detailed their hopes to continue the work this project pushes into the future. “We’ve expanded a lot of it through the Black Excellence Coalition through the Madison Metropolitan School District. So on top of social distancing and the hashtag campaign, we’ve developed alternative activities for youth,” said Clifton.
Students and parents can check the page daily for information on challenges and a chance to win the variety of gift card prizes offered to winners. This week’s challenge, which ends on June 6, requires students to Create a video showing us how you are staying physically active while social distancing. If students share their videos to social media pages and tag Creative During COVID they will be entered to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card.
Highlighting the increased benefits that technology has offered young people to connect during this virus, Maldonado said, “teens are sharing the stage with celebrities in their ability to make a difference right now. That type of stuff is something we didn’t see before COVID and I'm curious to see what we can continue to do with technology after.”