“……The camps started five summers ago, with thirty kids; this summer, he says, there are six hundred a week. They’re put on by LINX, a Wellesley company that also offers enrichment classes during the school year. LINX offers more than thirty camps, focused on topics like science, moviemaking, and theater. For about six hundred dollars a week, parents get weekly e-mails from their children’s counselors and reports measuring their kids’ progress on a variety of metrics—from jump shots to progress at building a car to success at being a community member. Mr. Schiering says that a lot of cost of the programs goes into hiring instructors who are not just leaders in their fields but are proven at boosting kids’ morale. Brian Scalabrine, a former member of the Boston Celtics, is the head coach of the basketball program….” From the article: The Day-Camp Boom by Avery Johnson; The New Yorker; August 26, 2013
The often missed role of a quality out-of-school informal learning experience in supporting academic achievement; is placing a lot of children purposely, in a disadvantaged state. A further example that the so-called “Achievement Gap” is artificially created and maintained. I will never forget what a Downstate Medical Center White Physician/Researcher/Professor “accidently” revealed to me many years ago. The Science Skills Center (SSC) held summer Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) enrichment programs at several sites in Brooklyn (IBM-Brooklyn, Pratt-School of Engineering; Brooklyn Union Gas and Con Edison). These programs placed young Black and Latino students (elementary-high school) in direct contact and under study with STEM professionals at the places where they worked. This program also allowed students to see, admire and be inspired by STEM professionals who look like them. At the Downstate Medical Center site students were able to study a full range of medical specialties. One of the highlights of the program (and I still can’t believe that the brave and wonderful Downstate President Donald Scherl allowed this; and I can’t believe I asked!); students were allowed to spend one of their rotations in anatomy/physiology/pathology, actually being able to see and touch cadavers; there were many exciting moments during those summers; like the time the students were able to observe an open heart surgery being performed). But it was in one of the MD-PhD research labs that I received my: “moment of truth”, from a very unguarded and honest White physician. She was one of the top Downstate instructors that president Scherl insisted be part of the program (he, Dr. Deas and I all agreed that we would not waste our, or the university’s time if this program was to be just the standard: “dog and pony” tour.) After the professor in question led, (with the help of her graduate students) the SSC students through a scientific research exercise; she pulled me aside to first express how “smart”, “attentive” and “Intellectually hungry” the students were; no problem, I got this a lot from many different instructors at all of our summer program sites. But then she said something very different, and very interesting (at the time I only revealed this: “close your mouth moment”, to 2 people with whom I had a personal trusting relationship; Drs. Blackstock and Deas) The professor said: “If I knew this program was going to be this educational, comprehensive and exciting; I would have put my children in it”. I have spent many years thinking about what she meant by that statement; and perhaps I will never know; because I am only left with a lot of questions like: “What about the program led you to believe that it would not be “educational, comprehensive and exciting”? One can only speculate (and could misconstrue) what is truly in another person’s heart; I only know that many Black staff persons at Downstate (MD’s, nurses, allied health professionals, administration, security, and maintenance workers) did put their children into the program; and to this day none have expressed any regret for having done so. I thought about the SSC summer medical program as I read this article. One cannot deny the reality that after the 1963 march on Washington many of the walls of public discrimination have come down; but I am haunted by the words of that professor; and the thought that we have missed the big opportunity and picture, by not strengthening our capacity to provide our young people with the experiences, exposure and skills that would truly integrate them into positions of power and positive creativity in service to our society. People have inquired: “with all of the setbacks and disappointments you have experienced (i.e. 2 great STEM public high schools built from scratch, only to see them down(de)graded; the elimination of dynamic elementary and middle school STEM programs in CSD29); why are you staying with this theme of “empowerment through formal and informal STEM education”? Perhaps it is in part because I am constantly reminded, on purpose or by accident by powerful people, in person and in articles that they understand that this is the best approach to the passing on of a powerful and success orientated personality to their children. But most important I am inspired, and held captive by the hope that if we give young people a chance, they can indeed eliminate any gap, real or imagined. In fact, the gap will be between them and the rest of the world. That’s my hope, and that’s my belief, and I am sticking with it!