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The return of Billy Booth

Life is slowly returning to normal in Ohio and the students attending Billy Booth’s Arts & Science Factory at the Akron Citadel Corps are thrilled.

The popular summer program was in jeopardy of being cancelled because of COVID–19, but Ohio officials gave the green light to reopen on June 1, said Major Steven Stoops, the area coordinator and corps officer in Akron.

Of course, safety precautions were a huge focus. Stoops said social distancing allowed only 38 students this summer instead of the normal 55.

The new rules required daily temperature checks for students, masks for teachers, persistent hand washing and sanitizing, and a cleaning of teaching aids and surfaces after each use. Field trips this year are also cancelled.

Stoops said parents must pick up and drop off students at curbside.

“There will be a lot of outdoor activities here on our campus this summer, as much as possible,” Stoops said.

“I think we’re up against a challenge with the ‘summer slide’ this year,” Stoops said, referring to the drop in academic proficiency some students take over the summer, especially in math and reading. “Our children have lost a lot because of this shutdown, so we’re going to do our small part to make sure that children are ready to go into their next grade. That’s a challenge that we accept.

“That summer slide is going to end up being five to six months this year. We’re going to do a lot of work to try to avoid that, but all along we’ve been doing private lessons, private tutoring, and private reading online with all of our students. We’ve stayed engaged with all of them.”

The all–day summer camp has a huge Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) component.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Stoops said. “We have a partnership with NASA. It helps kids get excited about space and especially at this time with the SpaceX launch. That will be a great thing to study.”

Stoops said the summer arts students usually put on a full theater presentation. This year’s show was supposed to be “Frozen,” but Stoops said that will be delayed until at least December.

Most summer camps are closed and Stoops said the corps was praying that Billy Booth’s Arts & Science Factory would be allowed to reopen.

“We really care for these children and we’ve done a great job engaging them throughout the pandemic with Zoom and private lessons and things like that, but it’s nothing like being in the same room with the children and teaching them and showing them and watching the experiments right there in person,” he said.

“These are children who are totally at–risk. We do a great job of keeping these kids on the right track with their education.”

Students will notice several capital improvements when they return. The work was done during the COVID–19 shutdown.

The corps converted the building’s incandescent lights to LED. “We’re a lot greener and we’re hoping that will pay for itself in five years,” Stoops said.

The corps also saw an HVAC upgrade to be more energy–efficient and cost–effective.

Stoops said major changes were also made to the chapel with new DMX lighting for stage productions and worship, as well as new carpeting, windows, and chairs to replace 50–year–old pews.

“It will be ready for the fall when we’re ready to do major productions again and have a full house of worship.

During the regular school year, Billy Booth’s Arts & Science Factory is an after–school arts academy named in honor of William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army. The academy is for kids from kindergarten to age 12. There is also a teen program for ages 13–18.

Volunteers pick up the kids from schools and take them to the corps, where they get a snack, homework help, and recreation. Then, it’s off to a variety of arts and music classes.

The academy is personal for Stoops, who described himself as a “terrible student” through elementary and high school. He only got excited about learning in the military, college, and then graduate school.

“We find that our program gets them excited about something and I think I would have been a different student if someone took the time to get me excited,” he said.

Stoops said the program is affiliated with the Glenn Research Center, named after Ohioian John Glenn, who was an Apollo 11 astronaut and later a state senator.

“We’re one of the few programs that get to participate in that,” Stoops says. “I grew up in the space age, but no one got me excited about that. Our children have the opportunity to get excited about rockets, and launches, and the dream of being on the Moon and on Mars. They’re really excited about that. I wish I had had this. That’s what motivates me.”

by Robert Mitchell

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