Urban Environmental and Sports Skills Center Final Report

Gloria J. Parks Summer

Urban Environmental and Sports Skills Center

Final Report

The Summer Urban Environmental Science and Sports Skills Center served Buffalo youth from July 6  – August 20, 2010. Organizations brought  youth who were participating in their summer programs to Gloria Parks for a week of Urban Environmental science and/or sports. Sessions were held in the morning and afternoon. The program was facilitated through a partnership between Science Firsthand/First Hand Learning, Gloria J. Parks Community Center and Houghton College/ WNY AmeriCorps.

We started planning the program not knowing what response we would receive from the organizations we were targeting. Explaining the structure of the program was challenging – it was an unusual project and an untested model. But as more organizations learned about the program, we began receiving requests to register groups from throughout the city. Organizations from the west side, Seneca Babcock and throughout the east side of Buffalo participated. Anticipating the reaction from youth engaged in the program was also an unknown. The level of enthusiasm and engagement that developed was beyond anything we could have expected.

The staff for the program was comprised of recent Houghton graduates who were involved in a Houghton service project. They chose to work in the city of Buffalo for 10 weeks during the summer. They were trained by two senior staff from the Science Firsthand project. The sports program was lead by the Athletic Director at Gloria Parks assisted by the Houghton students. High school volunteers helped in both parts of the program.

The success of the program was in part due to the creativity of all staff. They were able to respond to each group and their youth individually, adapting and adjusting the program components to meet the needs of the group. They found that each group was unique and came with different abilities and interests. The sports program focused on fitness, sports skills, sportsmanship, team work, and rules. Youth who were prepared to learn new sports or improve their skills had opportunities to do both.  Youth who had very little experience in organized sports started with fundamentals, learning the rules of games, how to play as a team, and taking turns.

The science program had very diverse approaches. Youth gained skills with equipment.  They learned about and learned to appreciate the urban landscape they live in. Through outdoor investigations of the neighborhood, they found that there are rich explorations available everywhere, everyday. Youth were amazed at the behaviors of insects, snakes, birds and other city wildlife as well as the variety of plant life. Many overcame their fears of insects and nature and spent considerable time theorizing on how and why phenomenon occurred. Watching spiders spin webs was more engaging than computer games.

Daily journaling was an integral component of the program. Each youth began the program by making their own journal. They named them and then recorded their investigations through drawing, writing and measurement each day. Each journal was unique. All captured the individual child’s focus and interests. Staff encouraged the relationship between science and art, and science and language. Youth became accustomed to using field guides as tools for their investigations.  Posters, songs and games were created to record and illuminate the explorations. A favorite activity was “fishing” for water critters from wading pools filled with pond water that were housed on the roof of the center. Minnows, tadpoles, snails and water beetles became pets for the week, as youth had the time and tools to observe, theorize and learn. All living collections were released at the end of the week, stressing the importance of maintaining the natural environment. The week long sessions culminated with trips to Glen Park or Squaw Island, meeting scientists, or participating in mini science festivals at the center, reinforcing the possibilities for investigations.

The objectives of learning by doing, direct experience and inquiry were central to all of the activities. We found that these produced authentic learning and that using these methods resulted in a very high level of engagement and improved behaviors. The youth and staff from the participating organizations noted that their interest was heightened as the week continued and that at the end, they were ready to continue. Some youth and staff stopped by throughout the summer to bring in things they had found or to see what new things were being investigated at the center.

Gloria J. Parks Community Center, the participating staff and youth and the participating organizations all  benefited from this program. We learned from each group that joined us in this program, and are appreciative that they shared their summer here at Gloria Parks.

Participants: Child & Adolescent Treatment Service 21st Century Program

My Kids Day Care Center

Holy Ghost Temple Flaming Fire Ministries

HOPE FLY program

Concerned Ecumenical Ministries

Seneca Street United Methodist Church

Schiller Park Community Services

Living Water Fellowship Church

First Shiloh Summer Fun Camp

4-H Summer Stars Camp

Number:      235 youth in grades 1 – 8 in sports and science

Contributors and partners: University of Buffalo

First Hand Learning

Houghton College/ AmeriCorps

Buffalo Area Pregnancy Prevention