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Orienteering Provides Youth Employment During the Pandemic of 2020

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

Written by Ethan Childs

This summer, Navigation Games partnered with the City of Cambridge once again as a worksite for the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program (MSYEP). Due to the pandemic, the number of youths able to participate in the program was scaled back to include only students on free/reduced lunch programs. In addition, some programs ran for six weeks while others ran for five. Our worksite included six students and ran for five weeks from July 13th to August 14th.

The pandemic also eliminated the possibility of regular, large-scale, in-person programs that Navigation Games would typically do during the summer months, which the MSYEP teens would typically help us deliver. Because of this, we shifted our focus from program delivery to learning navigation, designing courses, and testing activities. Our two most common activities throughout the summer were Neighborhood-O—where participants can download a street map in Cambridge with a short orienteering course on it—and Virtual-O—where participants use an orienteering map and GPS tracking to guide a remote runner through a [neighborhood-O] course from their computer. Other projects included in-person activity days to practice navigation, investigating inequity in access to natural spaces, identifying community assets, and goal setting.

Each day would begin with a video call, where we would review our work from the previous day and go over the plan for the current day. As often as possible, we wanted to give the teens an opportunity to complete work without constantly monitoring them, which meant that the tasks we assigned had to be clearly defined with tangible goals and a fixed period of time in which to complete them. We made sure to always have someone available to answer questions as they arose, but also encouraged the teens to talk to each other.

While there was a lot of fine-tuning during the first couple weeks, the results of our approach were excellent. Each person was able to produce two completely new Neighborhood-O courses to add to the Navigation Games website. They drafted activities geared towards other high-school students, helped us test and improve our virtual activities so we could include them in future offerings, researched local resources within their communities, and practiced setting goals and taking action towards achieving them. These projects not only contributed useful materials and information to Navigation Games, but also allowed the participants to learn and develop important skills centered around communication, responsibility, technology, and more.

The most consistent feedback we received from the teens was a unanimous desire to have more in-person activities. This included a broad range of activities, such as: One-Way-Street Orienteering, Photo Scavenger Hunts, filling in missing portions of a map, and even hybrid Virtual-O/Street-O competitions. These activities were designed to develop navigational skills, but were also intended to be fun and game-based as much as possible. The consistent feedback we received demonstrates that not only were these activities effective learning tools; they were also viable building blocks on which to structure innovative programs moving forward.

The virtual-based worksite this year posed many challenges, but it also enabled Navigation Games to develop creative solutions. Because of this, we have expanded the repertoire of activities we can offer to schools, camps, and other organizations, including virtual programs. It has also provided us with insight into ways community members and volunteers can potentially support Navigation Games beyond assisting with in-person programs. While securing program opportunities for this fall will still be difficult under present conditions, this summer’s work with the MSYEP youths has allowed us to prepare and be confident in the quality of our programs, regardless of what format we present them in. We’re looking forward to our future opportunities, and can’t wait to start the next chapter of orienteering education.

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