New program offers woodland break for Providence middle school youth
This article originally appeared in The Providence Journal
in the pine woods of Smithfield, two dozen Providence youngsters are
getting a taste of what summer is like for their more privileged peers.
camp counselor explains a game that involves passing a small ball in
between a spider web of ropes without touching any of the lines.
“Imagine,” the counselor says, “that an electric current is flowing through here.”
children are intrigued. There are giggles as the first few attempts to
successfully pass the ball from one side to the other fail. Although
the game is fun in its own right, the underlying lesson is about the
value of team work.
A couple of hundred yards away,
another bunch of kids are jumping into a pond. The novice swimmers stay
in the shallow end while the more experienced swimmers venture out in
deeper water and play tag.
With its pine-scented air
and fresh water, Camp Shepard, a YMCA facility, is a far cry from the
macadam playgrounds of Providence and offers a welcome reprieve from
the blistering heat.
This is the first time that the
Providence After School Alliance has offered a summer program for
middle school youth. The three-week pilot program gave about 300
students the opportunity to swim, bike, cook and practice filmmaking in
a variety of settings.
“This age group needs a safe
place to explore,” says Hillary Salmons, executive director of the
Providence After School Alliance, known as PASA. “They need a
structured place to test themselves.”
visit the zoo and learn about environmental issues at Roger Williams
Park, take sailing lessons at the Community Boating Center or try
archery at Camp Shepard. The activities have been offered in
partnership with the YMCA of Greater Providence, the John Hope
Settlement House, the City Parks Department and other local community
Now in its fourth year, PASA has organized a
network of neighborhood after-school activities for middle school
students, who have historically been left to their own devices between
the time school ends and the time their parents get home from work. The
goal is to provide children with structured activities under the
supervision of trained adults. Plans are now under way to expand PASA
to include high school students.
At Camp Shepard, the children were having a field day splashing in the lake and climbing on the ropes course.
“It’s keeping me active,” said 13-year-old Divine Smith. “I’d be home watching television if it wasn’t for this.”
middle school student, Dustin Isom, said he’s having fun making new
friends and trying out new activities. The swim test, he said, was
particularly challenging: “They made us tread water for 30 seconds and
the water was really cold.”
The PASA summer program
has another component: training teenagers to be camp counselors. Mayor
David N. Cicilline’s Substance Abuse Prevention Council, the YMCA and
the Traveling Theatre Inc. have helped PASA recruit and train 39 high
school students. Teenagers will also receive career and college
counseling paid for by Workforce Solutions of Providence and Cranston.
addition, two dozen college students have been trained as youth
engagement specialists by the various community agencies and they
provide guidance to the high school counselors.
“We’re trained to mentor the younger counselors and be goodwill ambassadors,” said Asia Smith,
a student at Pine Manor College in Massachusetts. “I’m majoring in
psychology and this job is helping me decide exactly what I want to do
with kids when I graduate.”
Another Pine Manor student, 17-year-old Mitzi Martinez, said she is learning as much from the children as they are from her.
“I like spending time with kids,” she said. “I’m learning to be patient and to communicate with children.”
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Wed, August 6, 2008