City Year New York and PS/MS 57 Take Leadership Upstate

Today’s guest blogger is Chris Godfrey. Chris is serving a second year with City year New York on the Credit Suisse PS/MS 57 team in East Harlem. 

At East Harlem’s James Weldon Johnson Leadership Academy (PS/MS 57), the sixth grade is a time of change. Though most of the students at the pre-K through eighth grade school aren’t new to the building, they are just beginning to warm up to the idea that they are now in middle school. Concepts such as homeroom, electives, and switching classes in between periods can prove to be quite the adjustment for a young student. From the very first day of classes, it becomes evident to every sixth grader that school just became a little more complicated.

In an effort to help ease the difficult transition from elementary to middle school, and to instill the skills that are required to develop positive leaders, PS/MS 57 gives every sixth grader the opportunity to participate in an annual weekend leadership camp. For the past five years, City Year has joined students and faculty for this camping experience, working as both session facilitators and team leaders. This year corps members and staff from the Credit Suisse PS/MS 57 team were joined by corps members from the Seven Generations Zone (East Harlem) and the Water Zone (Queens) to put together an unforgettable retreat experience for the campers of PS/MS 57.

The retreat began with a bus ride to Iroquois Springs Camp in Upstate New York. It was a nostalgic trip for the corps members who still held onto memories of City Year’s Basic Training Retreat, but one surprise that was waiting for us that wasn’t around in August was the blistering cold weather. Despite the chilly temperature, it didn’t take long before the kids were sprinting through the campground during the Apache Relay. The relay consisted of a variety of events that included untying a human knot, a sack race, and even a balloon shaving contest that left the assistant principal covered in shaving cream. After eleven different stations, and participation from over 60 students, a winner was determined and the kids were then introduced to the wonders of the Iroquois Springs dining hall. Great food was definitely a highlight of the trip as the kitchen staff went all out to accommodate the students with cakes, cookies, and other treats.

The weekend was filled with fun and games, including an unforgettable dance party and a Saturday afternoon on the low ropes course. The most important part of the experience was what the students were able to take away from the various leadership development sessions offered during the weekend by City Year corps members. The campers learned how to engage in active listening, and then used that skill to learn more about themselves and each other in the sessions that would follow. Other skills were learned as well. Campers learned how to zip up sleeping bags, make s’mores without turning them into flaming projectiles, and how many sweaters it takes to be warm in a wooden cabin when the temperature dips to 17 degrees.

By Sunday afternoon, the sixth graders boarded a bus and headed back to New York City, ready to take on all the challenges that await them in middle school. Leadership camp had been an amazing experience, and the students looked to be ready for the world…but first, they were ready for a nap. Let’s just say the trip back to East Harlem was very quiet.