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A City Education: The Case for Academics During Spring Break

Providing service and learning opportunities for students during school vacations is essential.

In our A City Education series, two City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the achievement gap and ending the dropout crisis.

I don’t remember what I did during my elementary school vacations. I probably hung out with one or two friends and spent the rest of my time watching television or reading. It certainly was a relaxing way to spend my week, but nothing too memorable. My hope, however, is that the 600 students who participated in City Year New York’s Enrichment Week during the recent February break will have lasting vacation memories.

City Year corps members work during the school day to provide a positive school climate, but through initiatives like Enrichment Week, we also build a positive community environment. I served as one of the co-directors of Camp City Year in East Harlem for elementary school students. Since November, I’ve been attending meetings twice a week to help plan and develop these camps.

Even though kids are out of school, that doesn’t mean their parents get the day off work. Offering safe, fun, and free camp programs during Enrichment Week gives us the opportunity to ease the minds of busy parents and build relationships with them that create additional support for students. And scheduling trips and service projects throughout the week of camps allows the students to branch out into the community more than they would during a normal school week when the focus is on academics.

That doesn’t mean there’s not an emphasis on academic learning during Enrichment Week, but the camp format allows for more creativity in our lessons. For example, our theme this year was time travel, so each day we “traveled” to a different era. We wove history lessons into art projects, recreation activities, and assemblies. We ended our week of time traveling with a student showcase that allowed us to take a look at the future.

Providing additional academic-themed lessons is vital to student development, but perhaps the greatest impact we made was the service project. Students shared their newfound awareness of social issues and participated in environmentally themed service projects. Getting students to see themselves as key players in creating a positive community environment was important. Another special aspect of Enrichment Week was that students were able to serve and interact with students and City Year corps members from other schools, which ultimately helps them develop their social skills.

The camp will be one of the memories from my service year that really sticks with me—I can see myself coming back as a volunteer next year. Thanks to City Year, I can finally say I had a memorable school vacation.

Photo courtesy of City Year New York

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