Today's guest blogger is Laura Fields, an AmeriCorps Member at P.S. 96.
On Monday mornings when we ask our students what they did over the weekend, it’s not uncommon to hear “nothing” or “I played with my cousin’s iPad,” so one can only imagine the boredom that comes when they have entire week off of school for April break. It was especially important to us that our students remained active during this week since the two weeks that followed would be consumed by state testing. In the past, City Year New York has dedicated the April break to “Best Week Ever”, a week surrounding competitions for AmeriCorps Members to demonstrate City Year spirit and pride. This year, all teams were encouraged to run programming for students in addition to preparing for a Friday AmeriCorps Member competition so that this week could be not just the "Best Week Ever" for AmeriCorps Members but for our students as well.
In East Harlem, our Senior AmeriCorps Members and supportive AmeriCorps Member committees worked hard, late nights to plan O.N.E. Harlem, a three day alternative spring break intended to provide students grades 3-8 at all five City Year schools in East Harlem with a way to have a fun spring break that is productive and gives back to the East Harlem community. Students were split into “Island Teams” for the week and encouraged to meet students from other schools. The idea was to emphasize how the world around them and the communities they live in are as much a part of them as they are a part of them.
Day One was a morning session dedicated to environmentally friendly arts and crafts. Students rotated between making piggy banks, lava lamps, and yarn wrapped vases all made using recycled bottles. On Day Two, we made the big trek to Randall’s Island, where students had the opportunity to work with the Randall’s Island Park Alliance to make and throw “seed balls,” a mixture of clay, mulch, and seeds that get thrown into the wetlands to help spread the grass and flower seeds needed for the new spring growth. The weather was cold, and the walk across the 103rd street footbridge was long, but students and AmeriCorps Members alike had a fantastic time on the service-learning day. Lastly, Day Three was a full day of programming dedicated to self-care. Students rotated between yoga, face-painting, DJ/Dance booth, giant connect four, kickball, basketball, friendship bracelet making, and more. Before lunch, students made their own planter boxes out of recycled milk cartons, and at lunch we showed our appreciation for the students’ hard work this school year and for them joining us on their time off with 100 burritos generously donated by Chipotle.
At 3 o’clock on Thursday, Island Teams circled for the last time. When we did a “fist of five” of how we all felt about this week, everyone in the circle had five fingers up, meaning the week couldn’t have been any better. I asked the students to share in particular what they liked about this week, and one student said “I thought that this was the best week ever because we got to do so many fun things and meet a lot of nice people.” The students were never informed that at City Year New York, this week is actually known as Best Week Ever, but it seems as though the East Harlem zone’s ONE Harlem Alternative Spring Break filled the title’s boots perfectly.