Summer School Means Community at Behind the Book

This summer, Behind the Book produced our own summer school programs for the very first time. The staff is very excited about the programs’ success and looks forward to expanding next year.

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Two of these programs were held in Harlem CLC, with Harlem HeadStart as our partner for these Pre-K classes.  The children read the book Supertruck by Stephen Savage, the story of an unappreciated garbage truck who saves the city during a blizzard. Four workshops per program were conducted, including a special visit from the author and a book celebration at the end. Through worksheets, art projects, readings, and engaging conversations, these students wrote about the special thing about them that no one else knows and created their own superhero capes to represent their power. They shared their superpower with several sanitation workers when they got a special visit from a real live supertruck!

The other summer school program was held in a seventh grade class at The Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, where the students read the novel This Side of Home by Renée Watson. During the six workshops, including two author visits and a celebration, these kids explored the themes addressed in the book, like gentrification in a historically black neighborhood and resulting culture clash. They used the themes to take a critical look at the recent changes affecting the community of Harlem. Using their own observations and personal experiences, the students wrote poems that celebrate the sweet and critique the bitter aspects of their community.

During my time as a summer intern at Behind the Book, I was lucky enough to attend both of these summer school programs at least once, and what I saw was definitely unexpected. In each class I noticed that the students already had a certain level of attachment and respect for Behind the Book and its staff. Regardless of the project they were completing or the book they were reading, every class asked me (rather hopefully) when I would be coming back. I found myself just as disappointed as they were when I had to tell them that I couldn’t stay.

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Despite it being summer school, none of the students that I worked with seemed annoyed or unwilling to be in the classroom. It became clear to me that these kids did not view Behind the Book workshops as “work” or resent the organization for taking up some of their summer vacation time. This was a place that they wanted to be. A safe, fun, and interactive learning environment. When I asked a certain seventh grade boy what he learned from this program and from Behind the Book overall, he stunned me by responding, “I am learning about the black life that I live… We need to learn about our own community, you know?” I got the feeling that they genuinely wanted to excel in each project, and trusted the staff and volunteers to help them reach their potential.

This guest blog was written by our super-talented summer intern Ariella Hakim, who is returning to Skidmore this fall.