Over 20 students in grades one through eight crowded around a table at Wexler-Grant School on Monday afternoon, watching wide-eyed as a chemical reaction between vinegar and baking soda caused a balloon to inflate.
In the wake of a spate of recent gun violence that killed two New Haven teenagers, Mayor Toni Harp and Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries ’95 announced last week that six schools in the district would remain open during April break in order to provide students with a safe environment and productive activities. Instead of sitting idle at home during this week’s Spring Break, New Haven Public School students have the option of coming to school to participate in workshops that include science experiments, team-building exercises and dance training.
More than 250 students attended one of the six open schools on Monday, according to Director of NHPS Communications Abbe Smith.
Two city departments — Youth Services as well as Parks, Recreation and Trees — collaborated with the Board of Education to put together a schedule of youth activities to inform parents about the program in just one week. According to city and school officials, the purpose of keeping schools open is to give kids a safe place to stay during the day and to transform idle time into productive time.
“It’s very easy for kids to get into trouble when they are away from school and not occupied,” said Rick Melvin, who works for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Trees Department and is supervising the program at Wexler-Grant School. “This gives them something fun and productive to do.”
From 2 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. each day, different agencies offer workshops that teach skills including team-building, nonviolence and goal-setting. Following the workshop, students eat a hot meal provided by the NHPS food service department and then head to the gym to play games like dodgeball, basketball and touch football.
At Wexler-Grant School, Heidi Gold-Dworkin GRD ’84 ’88 , founder of the education organization Little Scientist, taught students about different chemical reactions by guiding them through hands-on experiments on Monday afternoon.
In a classroom down the hall, four students wrote down their goals and discussed the steps they could take to reach those goals. This workshop was led by The Future Project, an organization founded by two Yale alums, that works with students to develop their leadership skills and encourages them to have a positive mindset.
Ten students interviewed at Wexler-Grant said that they were happy to come to school over break. The students said they would be sitting at home watching TV if they weren’t in school.
“None of my siblings are home right now, so I know I’d just be bored sitting at home,” said Sutanya Hamid, a fifth grader at Wexler-Grant . “It was also really awesome to get to look at my cells under a microscope.”
In addition to Little Scientists and The Future Project, other agencies that will provide workshops across the six schools this week include the CT Center for Nonviolence, the Community Action Agency and FAME — a youth empowerment group that promotes cultural diversity.
The six schools are open from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. April 14 through 17.