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How to help Utah County's children though the upcoming abnormal summer

In 1964, Dorothy S. Andersen published a simple song that asks children, “What do you do in the summertime?” This summer, the answers could be quite different than from other years.

Instead of marching in parades, or counting clouds in the sky like Andersen’s song mentions, this year children must wear face masks, social distance and play in small groups. They may not be doing things like going on family trips, to family reunions, and definitely not to Disneyland. They won’t be going to city celebrations or carnivals — they’ve all been canceled.

So what can be done this summer to help Utah County’s children grow and be happy and learn? School teachers, family counselors and organizations like Jeannette Herbert’s Uplift Families weigh in on ideas and resources to help.

School’s out, learning’s not

Lynne Harrington is a fourth grade teacher at Rock Canyon Elementary school in Provo. She has been teaching Utah history, math and spelling remotely for the past three months. She says she’s concerned about her students’ mental and emotional health.

“As teachers, we are always concerned about the mental health and the education of our students,” Harrington said. “During these unprecedented times, we are even more concerned. Many of the usual activities of spring and summer are being denied our students. Add to that their worries about trying to understand their school work and make progress.”

Harrington outlined a few ideas to help children stay academically and mentally well.

“With summer approaching, routine continues to be so important. As part of that routine, it is so crucial that children continue to read every day, to help them keep the growth they have made,” Harrington said. “Reading with your child can be a very precious time as well, even with older children.”

Parents can introduce their children to literature they might otherwise not choose. They are encouraged to read them books at a higher level than what they would be capable of reading by themselves, Harrington said.

Ann Bigelow, a kindergarten teacher at Rock Canyon Elementary, suggests having children get involved with a book club with several of their friends, then having a Zoom meeting once a week, so the friends can discuss the book.

“This encourages them educationally and also provides an opportunity for them to socialize,” Bigelow said.

Bigelow added, “Parents are always the child’s best teacher. Every day interaction, both formal and informal, helps children to keep learning.”

First and foremost, Bigelow says to have fun.

“There are hundreds of online resources for things to do with kids over the summer, but here is one of my favorites,” Bigelow said, sharing the website https://sixsistersstuff.com/50-outdoor-summer-activities-for-kids/. She also added https://preschool.uen.org/ is a “great resource put out by the UEN (Utah Education Network) for young children.”

The UEN is a broadband and digital broadcast network serving public education, higher education, applied technology campuses, libraries and public charter schools throughout the state.

“Find ways to allow children to interact with their friends,” Bigelow said. “They can set up play dates where they visit over Zoom or make Facetime calls and share activities they are doing at home.”

Bigelow adds, “The most important thing parents can do is have a plan so the summer doesn’t get away from them.”

According to Bigelow, this should include: reading every day, writing every day, maths review at least three times a week, and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) activities at least weekly. These activities should be fun and engaging. For example: families can use sidewalk chalk to draw pictures and write words; they can also go on a nature walk for science. While outdoors, children can put masking tape around their wrists with the sticky side out to collect items from nature — leaves, grass, small rocks, flowers, etc. — and stick them the their “bracelet.”

“With the future so uncertain, parents have a tremendous responsibility to help their child continue to love learning, and to help them still feel a sense of routine,” Harrington said. “As teachers, we hope that by following these guidelines, your child will feel ready academically, socially and emotionally to return to school when that happens.”

Family support

Stuart Harper, a licensed clinical social worker and registered play therapist supervisor at the Family Support and Treatment Center, has been busy helping children adjust to the side effects of COVID-19.

Harper is concerned that today’s society is so reliant on scheduled, planned-out and scripted activities that some children and parents have forgotten what it means to play or use one’s imagination.

“Kids are desirous to self-direct play,” Harper said. “Hopefully we have parents who can remember what self-directed activities are.”

Harper said if parents could provide toys that are non-descript action figures or baby dolls, children can make them whatever they want them to be — such as their own super hero.

Haper defines play as, “The free expression of self-originated, undirected thoughts and feelings.”

Videos games are too scripted, Harper said. Parents should allow kids to make mud-pies and play in the dirt and roll in the grass.

Like Harrington and Bigelow, Harper said children should have a routine or schedule that allows for creative play time.

Emily Steele, a counselor at the Family Support and Treatment Center, had numerous ideas for constructive and healthy child play

“Maybe having something each day of the week that kids can look forward to,” Steele said. “For example: Monday is travel day where we all go to somewhere in the world we’ve always wanted to go. Draw pictures of what it might look like and hang it on the wall, learn about that place together, eat a dinner with food from that place, dress up in what you would need to wear if you were going there, etc.”

She continued, “Tuesday is family karaoke, etc. Having a big calendar on a whiteboard where kids can see what they are going to be doing that week. That’s usually helpful, especially for kids with anxiety.”

While kids are spending more time on technology and less time outside, Harper acknowledges it’s a balancing act and there is more to balance these days.

Uplift families

When Gov. Gary Herbert took office nearly 12 years ago, Utah’s First Lady Jeanette Herbert was set on creating her own initiatives. She identified a platform where parents could find resources: Uplift Families.

Now, more than 10 years later, Uplift Families has hundreds of resources for parents and children, from learning how to deal with stress and suicide to having playtime fun, according to Steve James, Uplift Families executive director.

All of the resources are reviewed by professionals in parenting and mental health professions, James said.

Uplift Families holds yearly conferences, has a YouTube channel and a website to help families.

Along with Herbert, the Uplift Families team has created an online Parent Resource Center that serves parents and grandparents of children ages 0-18.

“The first of its kind in Utah history, this unique resource is housed on Mrs. Herbert’s new updated website, UpliftFamilies.org, and features more than 300 quality and vetted sources with over 1000 entry points,” according to James.

Parents can easily search for vital information according to age or area of concern. The issues addressed on the site have come directly from Utah parents through a series of surveys, in addition to feedback and reports from parenting experts.

According to the group’s website, the Uplift Families YouTube Channel features TIPS (Teaching Important Parenting Skills) talks given at Uplift Families Parenting Conferences. Also included are message-based commercials, interviews and other material supporting the mission and scope of Uplift Families.

Whether through Uplift Families, other resources or day-to-day parenting, connecting parents to children — and children to creative playtime and learning opportunities — will help families get through the abnormal summer months ahead, Harper concluded.

Provo candidate Trey Robinson frustrated by experience with Utah Democratic Party

Provo resident Trey Robinson decided to run for public office after feeling like Utah needed leadership that would protect the environment, condemn racism, reform public education and provide a voice for millennials.

Robinson, 30, who graduated from Brigham Young University in 2015, chose to run for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District seat, which is currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. John Curtis. Given Robinson’s beliefs and platform, he felt like running as a Democrat was the right thing to do.

But after months of working with and “trying to foster a relationship of trust” with the Utah Democratic Party, Robinson, who was eliminated during the state Democratic Party’s convention in April, said he has been disheartened and frustrated by how the party operates.

“I’ve been working with them for over a year and it’s truly been an absolute nightmare,” Robinson said in an interview on May 5. “An absolute heartbreaking nightmare of a process.”

In particular, Robinson said communication between party leadership and himself and other candidates has been sparse.

When he decided to launch his campaign, the Provo Democrat said it took months to get in contact with different Democratic caucuses and party leadership. Robinson said he only ever heard back from one of the county chairs he reached out to — Terri Goodall of the Wasatch County chapter.

According to Robinson, multiple members of party leadership discouraged him from entering the race in the first place, arguing that a Democrat didn’t have a chance of winning in such a conservative district.

“So there’s … just (been) this total discouragement,” said Robinson. “It’s not that I’ve needed them to bend over backwards and support me in any sense, but just to even give me any sort of direction or answers. So that’s been my process from the very beginning.”

Robinson’s frustrations peaked in late April, days before the Utah Democratic Party’s virtual convention on April 25.

Robinson said he wasn't given a link to a virtual town hall debate he participated in until an hour before the event was scheduled to take place. Additionally, Robinson said he was told he needed to be 30 minutes early to the video conferencing event, leaving the candidate little time to prepare.

Robinson voiced his concerns in an email to Utah Democratic Party Chair Jeff Merchant on April 22.

“Communication within our party has been a nightmare and I am deeply frustrated,” Robinson wrote in the email, which was obtained by the Daily Herald.

“In the face of this pandemic, effective communication is even more vital than ever since we cannot meet in person," Robinson wrote. "Failing to make sure our whole team is on the same page and springing information on us or leaving us at the last minute to have to ask ‘what is going on?’ only gets in the way of all of us being able to do our best to represent our party.”

Robinson told Merchant about his overall negative experience working with the Utah Democratic Party, an experience that he said made him “feel like trash, like absolute garbage.”

“This process is difficult enough as is and it has become a whole different monster all together from the pandemic, but these failures in base level professionalism and communication are crippling us as a party,” he wrote in an email that he said Merchant never responded to. “This makes the possibility of starting the growth that we need to create here in order to flip voters even more difficult than it already was.”

Merchant, who was elected chair of the Utah Democratic Party in June, said in an interview on Friday that, in his opinion, “The party has been more receptive and more responsive to constituent needs, to candidate concerns and to the press ... than it has been in many, many years.”

“I think that if you asked just about anybody that is involved with the Utah Democratic Party, they would say, in comparison to even a year ago when I wasn’t the chair, that the amount of communication that they receive is the polar opposite of what it was before,” Merchant said.

The state Democratic Party chair added that “of course there are times when people don’t get back to other people” but that Robinson “was included on all of the emails that were sent out regarding everything from the debates that we were having to the convention information.

“There was no additional information that was given to any other candidates that Trey did not get. I don’t deny that he probably feels that there wasn’t good communication, but I haven’t heard that from many other candidates.”

Merchant said he didn’t know of anyone in the party discouraging Robinson from running but that it is common for party leaders to point candidates toward races that they believe the candidate is best suited for.

“One thing that the party does is it works really hard to get candidates for every slot, and so if we find someone with a particular skill set that we think would be ideal for a specific political office, then we will let them know about that,” he said. “And I think that that’s a fair and useful thing to do.”

Merchant noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has created difficulties for party leadership and forced them to “make decisions very quickly and with very little notice.”

“I’ll be the first one to say that we probably could have done a lot more than we did to give information to people,” Merchant said. “But as it was, I think we did give adequate information. And we gave that as quickly as we possibly could.”

Robinson was eliminated from the 3rd Congressional District race after receiving 9.6% of delegate votes during the Utah Democratic Party convention, along with Jared Anderson, who received 8.1% of votes. Devin Thorpe advanced to the November general election as the party’s nominee with 82.2% of votes.

BYU may not put fall semester on the books until July

Many colleges and universities across the country have started making long-term decisions about when students will return to campus, even though there are many unknowns surrounding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

BYU, on the other hand, posted an announcement Thursday that it may not make that decision until July.

“BYU is currently studying a number of options for fall semester,” the announcement said. “Ideally, the university would like for all of its students, faculty and staff to be on campus learning together, and we are working on plans that we hope can make that happen in some form. BYU’s first priority, however, must always be the health and safety of the members of its campus community. For this reason, BYU’s leadership will continue to work closely with state and county health officials, as the university studies the possibility of holding classes on campus or continuing with remote learning. Given the uncertain conditions in Provo and elsewhere, BYU may not be able to make a final decision until July.”

The announcement also encouraged BYU students to carefully examine off-campus housing contracts. Many contracts are signed in the spring for the fall semester, but the unknown circumstances could make the situations complicated.

BYU’s Off-Campus Housing Office recommended that students take three steps:

1. Read your housing contract

“When you signed the lease, you entered into a binding legal contract with your landlord,” the announcement said. “Off-campus landlords are not BYU employees or companies, and the university does not have power to cancel the contract or release you from it. The contract can be canceled only under certain conditions set out in the contract itself. It’s important that you know and understand what those conditions are. Some of them are time sensitive.”

2. Carefully consider your options and plans

“We recognize that the pandemic and ensuing uncertainty are forcing a difficult decision: If you don’t sign (or if you cancel) a housing contract, but you decide later in the summer to return for fall semester 2020, you risk being unable to live in the housing of your choice,” the announcement said. “On the other hand, if you sign a contract now, it may turn out that campus is unable to reopen fully or at all for fall semester 2020. We wish we could give definitive guidance on how events will proceed, but these are very uncertain times.”

3. Keep up with what’s happening

“In order for you to make the best choices for your individualized situation, please stay up to date about the pandemic in your community and how BYU is responding,” the announcement said, directing students to BYU’s COVID–19 updates, the Off-Campus Housing Office and the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution.

“As some of you may know, the BYU Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution (CPCR) is in the process of mediating and arbitrating housing disputes between landlords and student tenants about winter semester 2020 off-campus housing disputes related to COVID–19,” the announcement said. “The CPCR has an outline of the mediation process. The CPCR has also published recent redacted arbitration decisions. Although each case must be decided on its own facts and merits, these decisions may help guide your housing decisions.”

The complete announcement from BYU can be found at https://news.byu.edu/announcements/.

State releases COVID-19 data for care facilities

For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the state of Utah is providing access to data from care facilities, and three Utah County businesses are on the list.

The state’s online data dashboard identified Medallion Manor (Provo), Aspen Ridge of Utah Valley (Provo) and Parkway Health Center (Payson) as care facilities which have had positive COVID-19 cases among their patients or employees. In total, nine Utah care facilities were listed, with six having five or more cases.

Medallion Manor is listed as having had five or more cases, while Aspen Ridge and Parkway Health Center were identified as having fewer than five.

Allie Spangler, a spokesperson from the Utah Health Care Association, confirmed that Medallion Manor at one point had more than five cases and has applied proper protocol.

“All of our members in the state follow the long-term care guidance provided by the CDC and local health departments,” Spangler said. “We’ve been passing along that information and following that guidance. We’ve been dealing with infection control for a long time, and we’re always updating with new information.”

Joe Walker, CEO of Advanced Health Care (the parent company of Aspen Ridge), said the Utah Department of Health has coordinated to move patients or workers who test positive for the virus to hospitals or approved COVID-19 treatment centers. Aspen Ridge is not a long-term care facility, according to Walker, who said the average patient stay there is around 21 days.

“Our workers are heroes,” he said. “They’re taking on this challenge as they are trained to do and facing it with a lot of courage.”

Todd Bramall, administrator at Parkway Health Center, said there are currently no positive cases at his facility. A week ago, three residents tested positive and were transferred to the City Creek COVID-19 care facility in Salt Lake City. He added that all three residents who were discharged are not showing any signs of the virus and are scheduled to return to Parkway Health Center.

Utah’s online virus database indicates there are more than 300 licensed long-term care facilities in the state, serving an estimated 18,000 vulnerable people. Long-term care facilities include nursing homes, assisted living, and intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities. In coordination with long-term care facilities and their industry associations, state agencies and local health departments are working together to strengthen infection control measures with the goal of preventing the spread of COVID-19 to this vulnerable population.

Michael Good, CEO of University of Utah Health, said on Thursday that 70% of deaths in Utah due to COVID-19 were people over the age of 65, and over 90% of those casualties had serious medical conditions.

As of Friday afternoon — the website updates its statistics at 1 p.m. daily — 100 Utah care facilities have been impacted by the virus and 78 have been resolved. Since March 10 there have been 184 residents and 151 health care workers who have tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in 31 resident deaths.