Two PMC Students Noted in The Providence Journal

New program offers woodland break for Providence middle school youth

This article originally appeared in The Providence Journal

Deep in the pine woods of Smithfield, two dozen Providence youngsters are getting a taste of what summer is like for their more privileged peers.

A 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.”

The 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.”

Children can 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 groups.

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.”

Another 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.

In 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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