I will never forget my Mother’s chance encounter with a former student. The student said to her, “I’ve been wanting to thank you for giving me my life.” The student explained that it was only due to Sophie’s inspiration in the middle school gym that she went on to pursue her talent in dance. What followed was a successful career as a dance therapist – through which she in turn inspired many other young students. Sophie Gerson Healthy Youth (SGHY) continues the inspiration.
SGHY provides a range of sport and dance opportunities so students can stay active in the ways which most appeal to them. We do so at a critical moment. NYC public middle schools reel from years of budget cuts to athletics and the arts. The results have been epidemic heath issues, including obesity and diabetes, and equally epidemic social problems including bullying and low self-esteem. Athletics and the arts are extremely effective in preventing those outcomes.
Sophie Gerson Healthy Youth is unique in three cost-effective, pedagogically progressive ways:
First, SGHY fully integrates all of our programs in to the schools which we serve. Too often, after-school programs function as school appendages, with no coordination or communication between program providers and teachers or principals. SGHY engages teachers who know the kids in each of our programs to work with program instructors. In this way, programs and schools collaborate to address individual student needs. Also, the schools select the students for SGHY activities and camps, assuring that students who will benefit most attend the appropriate programs.
Second, SGHY does not run programs. Rather, we identify, vet, fund, administer and coordinate the best available program providers or enrichment partners and summer camps in their respective fields, that we bring to our schools. This assures that our students receive instruction or coaching from experts, avoiding the situation of one provider running a range of programs with expertise in none. SGHY partners include the following acclaimed organizations: New York Junior Tennis and Learning; the National Dance Institute; Road Runners; Columbia University (Departments of Athletics and Science); The Hayden Planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History; NYC Center for Space Science Education; the Sierra Club; the Roberto Clemente Cultural Center; Kids of Summer; and the Julian Krinsky Camp Program. SGHY also supports school staff led programs in volleyball, badminton, and basketball.
All SGHY programs are co-ed, however we include a special outreach to girls for sports and science in which girls have been historically discouraged. As part of that effort, SGHY supports Sophie’s Stars, a team in an all girls basketball league.
All SGHY programs are totally free of charge to all students, their families and schools. And we mean totally. SGHY covers program and camp tuition, for which we negotiate steep discounts. We cover meals, transportation, teacher time, equipment and school opening fees. If a family cannot afford proper attire, we will discreetly provide that – and in summer camp, SGHY provides a canteen allowance so that our kids are not singled out.
All programs incorporate anti-bullying, promotion of self-esteem, individual initiative, team work, and good sportsmanship, as well as health and nutrition education. SGHY also incorporates college inspiration: our expanding partnership with Columbia University will engage middle school students with student athletes and scholars and faculty. We send our middle school summer campers to camps located on bucolic college campuses, where they “bunk” in college dormitories.
The third way in which SGHY is unique and effective is our summer camp scholarship program. SGHY provides, as stated, full scholarships for our students to spend at least one week in camp. This includes both sleep-away and day camp, as most suitable for each student. For most of our kids, this is their only time away from their concrete neighborhoods.This combats what educational experts have come to call “the summer slide,” setback in academic and social growth and development to low income youth who literally have nothing to do all summer long because their families cannot afford camp and local programs have long wait lists.
In addition we provide funds for our two schools to send classes to the New York City Center for Space Science Education.
The schools leverage student participation in our programs for student success in the rest of school. All students in any of our programs receive school attendance and academic monitoring, and academic counseling as needed. The teachers and coaches reinforce lessons in nutrition, posture, and other good health habits. The teachers and coaches also provide all of our students with life coaching to foster self-esteem, self-discipline, anti-bullying, team work, tolerance and respect for others. Our program is co-ed. However, just as Sophie fought for equality in athletic opportunity, we incorporate encouragement and recruitment for girls.
As our one capital project, we seek to raise funds which the government will match to renovate the antiquated auditorium at the Professional Performing Arts School [PPAS].
I invite you to scrutinize our website. Look at the photos of our kids and read what they, their coaches and teachers have to say. Teachers have already reported improvement in attendance, motivation, socialization, and academic progress. I am certain you will agree that Sophie Gerson Healthy Youth provides long-lasting inspiration and instruction in health and in life, just as Sophie Gerson did throughout her long career as a teacher and educational leader.
Teachers report that students in SGHY programs and camps show improvement in attendance, academics, behavior, and self-esteem. As one educator put it, “the SGHY program encourages students to dream good dreams for their futures and to believe that they can achieve their dreams.”