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Co-Op launches summer STEM learning

When you visit the Co-Op Summer Enrichment program, hosted at Mamaroneck Avenue School, there is an instantaneous sense that this is not school.  Our area’s only summer program for low income families seeks to create exceptional learning experiences in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, STEM, through hands-on, project based work. This initiative works to decrease the risk of children losing critical academic skills during the summer months. To ensure that this is not just another version of school, Co-Op supplements professional staff members with an active and diverse group of teenagers and young adults who work as program counselors to guide the children through their Co-Op learning blocks.  

Co-Op Counselor Zachary Susswein brings laughter to ecosystem studies. Campers analyze animal habitats
and build water filtration units. Photo courtesy Iris Hernandez

For campers, the day starts at the morning rally. Several hundred kids sit crossed legged in the auditorium, chanting and singing Co-Op songs while clapping their hands. Then, the rally leaders magically transition the kids from loud to quiet in anticipation of the morning announcements. Next, they parade out into the halls to dig into their weekly teacher-led learning themes. Counselors support campers as they take on challenging topics like Click n’ Connect, an adventure in circuits and robots, or Your Life Depends on It, a life science exploration that uses dissection labs to understand how organisms have evolved to survive. Beyond these longer inquiry blocks, campers also rotate through the day into various activity centers that are designed, created and instructed entirely by the counselors. These include No-Bake Cooking, Engineering, Textiles & Crafts, Mindfulness & Movement and the Math Cave.

With a 40-year history, Co-Op Summer Enrichment has an established track record of bringing blended learning and recreational experiences to elementary students who lack access to quality summer experiences. But this summer, under the leadership of the STEM Alliance of Larchmont-Mamaroneck, this program for 230 children took on an entirely new vibe and mission. The STEM Alliance hired a highly diverse staff and built a collaborative team that emphasizes both professional training and the youthful enthusiasm of teenagers. Antonella Kauffman, administrator for Co-Op Program Design and Scheduling, said, “Our steering committee was very intentional about redesigning the program to emphasize the mentoring role of our young adult counselors. Kids listen to young adults differently and learn different life lessons from them. What’s more, these counselors have been given high level responsibilities and significant training to help them keep kids motivated, manage behavioral concerns and even create curriculum.”

During their week long orientation, the counselors were tasked with creating their activity centers. Celeste Burrell, an assistant counselor who is headed to SUNY Oneonta in the fall, is one of the expert designers of the No-Bake Cooking room. “No-Bake isn’t just a fun experience for these kids. I can see their focus as they learn to work with knives and measure ingredients. We trust them and they perform. They’ve also been tasting new foods like cucumber salad and different beans!”

Rolf Locher, a head counselor and a sophomore at Villanova University, explained the importance of the Math Cave, an activity area designed by several of his counselor peers. “I have a fourth grade boy who has extreme behavioral needs. When we go to the Math Cave, I am able to teach him special math including the Fibonacci sequence and imaginary numbers. We made a personal connection over our love for math. I needed that in order to help him through his harder moments.”

Through this year’s redesign, the Co-Op program has been a multi-faceted platform for growth. The children have been exposed to expanded curriculum. Professional educators have developed new project-based inquiry pedagogy across topics as diverse as entrepreneurism, design innovation and water engineering. And the young adult counselors have gained new skills in conflict resolution, time management, teamwork and more.

Director Iris Hernandez said it best, “This program is simply a win-win-win for everyone. Following our beliefs of caring, creating and collaborating together, all of our employees and all of our children have grown in their thinking and had tremendous fun along that learning path.” When it comes to meeting their goal of equal access to quality programs, the Co-Op team has gone above and beyond.

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