CHESTERTOWN, MD—Washington College’s Peer Mentors recently hosted a Play Day for some 30 students from Kent County’s Horizons program, a six-week enrichment program for low-income students hosted each summer at Radcliffe Creek School. The Horizons students are drawn from Kent County public schools, grades K through Five. The local program annually serves approximately 60 children, and plans to add a Grade Six classroom next summer.
Senior Jesse Schaefer, a Peer Mentor Leader, says the idea for the Play Day was sparked at last spring’s Neighbors for Good day on campus, when Sarah Feyerherm, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, introduced her to Connie Schroth, Executive Director of Horizons. “I had been eager to incorporate a community service element into the Peer Mentor program, and Horizons seemed like a perfect organization to connect with,” she adds.
Radcliffe Creek School, located on Talbot Boulevard in Chestertown, is one of approximately 20 independent schools that host an affiliate of Horizons, a national enrichment program that works to combat “summer slide” in academic skills and reduce the achievement gap between low-income students and their peers from middle- and high-income families. During the six-week sessions over the summer break, Horizons teachers work with students to maintain and improve on skills learned during the school year, bolster students’ confidence, and encourage creativity.
In creating the Washington College Play Day, the Peer Mentors sought “to expose these students to a college campus in the hopes of illuminating college as a relevant and attainable goal,” says Schaefer.
“The Horizons kids really responded well to the Peer Mentors, who were enthusiastic, creative, and served as great role models,” says Feyerherm, who coordinates the Peer Mentor program. She adds that the experience not only helped the Peer Mentors polish their teaching skills, but also reminded them that “they live for four years in a community in which they can make a difference.”
The day began at about 8:30 a.m. with introductions and breakfast snacks and ended with lunch and a tour of the College campus. In between, the students took part in their choice of two activities from the half-dozen being offered by the college students—juggling, acting/improv exercises, basketball, art, balloon animals, and dancing.
Senior Ryan Adams-Brown says that as the day went on, many of the students who had been shy at first started to open up. “It was really cute whenever I would hear ‘Miss Ryan, watch this!’ and they would show me a dance move they finally figured out, or a balloon animal they’d made. My favorite part was getting tapped on the thigh and getting a hug as one of the little girls that I had in my dance session was about to leave. It was the cutest thing! I think it’s safe to say that everyone went home happy that day.”
Sophomore Hilary Rosenberg agrees. “[The Play Day] was a fantastic experience,” she says. “I honestly didn’t even notice the time pass because I was having so much fun. It felt so great to just play, and I hope to do it again next year.”
Her chances of repeating the experience are looking good, according to Feyerherm. “We are planning to make this a once-a-semester event where the Peer Mentors either host the Horizons students on campus or we do some other activity with them,” she says. “We hope to continue this every year.”
Connie Schroth wrote to Feyerherm to express hers and the children’s appreciation for the day. “Play Day was perfect in every way,” she said. “The Horizons children were delighted with everything, and the Peer Mentors were so empathetic, sensitive, and energetic. It does take a village to make a difference.”