The Co-Op Summer Enrichment Program
More than 300 elementary rising middle school students in Mamaroneck have been working hard and challenging themselves this summer to earn the coveted ribbons that indicate they have achieved a personal goal. The ribbons are placed on wooden plaques that the campers proudly make themselves and keep over the years as the ribbons accumulate.
The goals range from fitness to STEM, leadership to creativity and are all fundamentals of the community’s long-standing Co-op Summer Enrichment, a program run by the Larchmont-Mamaroneck STEM Alliance at Mamaroneck Ave. School that provides five weeks of academic and recreational experiences to families who cannot afford to attend other local summer programs. What’s more, the program relies on local teens who attend Hommocks Middle School, many of whom experienced the program in their elementary years. The students now assist campers while also participating in the RISE Leadership Program, which teaches leadership, responsibility and communications.
Manny Rawlings, one of the program’s adult counselors who works closely with the RISE students says that it’s amazing to see their growth and increased confidence from week one to five. “If there’s one thing, I want them to know, it’s that they have a voice,” said Manny. “Their thoughts and opinions matter and they should feel comfortable being vocal.” Manny’s sentiments were an apt description of first-year RISE participant Marcos who was initially described as quiet but, a few weeks into the program had made new friends and was improving his swimming skills.
In response to what he most enjoyed about Co-op, Marcos said, “I like being with my friends, swimming and playing How to be a Billionaire. We’re learning how to make our own money and the teachers here help us a lot. They are very nice.”
Co-op is highly structured, with six STEM-related majors run by educators. Activities are project-based and hands-on while counselors also emphasize the ‘3 C’s’ that are core values: care, collaborate and create. For example, in the Design Lab students are taught to use a sewing machine and other tools to create small stuffed animal pillows, hacky sacks and keychains. Ms. Nigro, who oversees this major, says that the students “aren’t intimidated and do a great job!” She even has students bringing in clothes from home to alter.
Once the students make the objects in the Design Lab, they’re off to Co-Op Shop where they sell their creations and learn about the basics of entrepreneurship including pricing and counting money. As campers set up goods, many noted that co-op lab was one of their favorite majors and that they were proud of the work they had done.
Just down the hall, students were participating in Habitat Hunters where they learned about natural disasters and worked in teams to build small structures to see if they could withstand the wind. As a bonus, marshmallows were among the materials used and each got to enjoy a fresh one at the completion of the project. The Habitat Hunters were gearing up to get into white lab coats and goggles to dissect frogs the next day, a lesson not typically undertaken by students until well into middle school. John Carlos, a rising second grader said, “I want to see what it’s like inside. I think it will make me feel a little funny, but also excited.”
Other majors include engineering, coding, as well as Inside/Out and ACT which focus on social and emotional well-being, problem-solving and restorative justice concepts to help students repair bad feelings or harm they may have created.
“Covid has a significant impact on how younger children interact with one another and their social skills,” said Ms. Nicole who oversees the ACT major. “We are trying to help them see that it’s ok to be vulnerable and share what they’re feeling, as well as to solve problems.”
Living on Long Island Sound, the importance of swim and water safety lessons can’t be overstated. As such, swim lessons are also provided to all participants with students shuttled to the pool at Hommocks Middle School. “Swimming is definitely one of the best parts of the day,” said 7-year-old Simona.
Although the Co-op program is largely structured, the counselors recognize the need for students to occasionally step away from their groups and organized activities and curl up with a book or other self-driven activity. To that end, the program has coordinated with elementary school teachers to ensure that all participants have a packet of ‘just right’ books. The reading opportunities go a long way in preventing ‘summer slide’ in literacy skills and even allow some children to advance as they enter the new school year.