When most of our students visit the Museum at Eldridge Street it is for a one-time program; they visit our space and connect with our educators for an hour or two. There isn’t often the opportunity to work with classes for an extended period of time. Fortunately, that is where the CASA (Cultural Afterschool Adventures) program comes in. Under the auspices of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the CASA program partners cultural institutions with local schools for extended projects. For ten weeks, museum educators have a chance to connect with students in their classroom and work closely on an in-depth project. The Museum is very grateful to participate in the program, and we have just completed our third year of the program with local school P.S.1. This year our CASA program was led by former Eldridge intern, Anna Melo. We talked with her about her relationship with the Museum and the rewards and challenges of the ten-week program.
1) Tell me how you came to be a part of the Museum at Eldridge Street team?
In the summer of 2017 I worked as an intern at the Museum at Eldridge Street. It was a wonderful experience, during which I was able to have a hand in many interesting projects and events. I volunteered at the Eggrolls, Egg Cream and Empanadas Festival, gave tours of the Museum and had the opportunity to visit other cultural institutions around the Lower East Side. I have returned in subsequent years to assist with the festival, and for the CASA program.
2) Tell us about the CASA program. Why do you think it is important for students in the community to learn about the history of places like Eldridge Street?
The CASA program is a ten-week afterschool program that allows second grade students at neighborhood schools to uncover the history in their community. In the second grade Social Studies curriculum students learn about different types of communities. We explore how places like New York City change over time but also leave behind clues to history in buildings and street names. The Museum’s afterschool program is a perfect fit in their curriculum. Using photography, printmaking and other mediums, the students create final art projects connected to places in their neighborhood.
Many of the students at P.S. 1 are immigrants or the children of immigrants. I found that at the start of the program, the students knew very little about the background of their own neighborhood. At the start of the ten weeks, they took a field trip to the Museum and learned about the generations of immigrants that had come before. They interviewed a museum docent who had grown up in the Lower East Side in the 1930s and 40s. He taught them the games he had played as a child such as marbles and stickball. By learning the stories of the people and places in their community, our students can make more connections to both their own roots and to the history of New York City.
3) Working with students has both rewards and challenges. What examples have you encountered in these past 10 weeks?
One of the most gratifying things about working with students has been watching them learn and grow over such a short time period. My favorite instances were when a student would use information gained from a previous lesson in an unrelated part of a subsequent lesson. A few weeks after a lesson on stained glass, during which I had explained that glass is made up of the same material as sand, I showed the students how to play marbles. Upon seeing the glass marbles one proudly exclaimed: “It’s made of sand!”
One of the biggest challenges when dealing with a large group of young children is, naturally, gaining and maintaining their attention. I learned a lot about lesson pacing and how to break up explanations, demonstrations, and questions. I always felt as though I was racing against the clock to get a lot done in a short a class. I learned some solid time saving procedures.
4) How has working at Eldridge Street shaped your career path?
My time with Eldridge Street has allowed me to work on a diverse range of programs and events. This has given me a chance to better determine the direction I want my career to head in. I have always been interested in education, but working on this last project has essentially proven to me that this is the field I want to pursue. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to work with the Museum at Eldridge Street and with CASA. The challenges of this program have undoubtedly improved my skills as an educator and I am thankful for the addition to my experience.
We’re so thankful to have Anna on the Eldridge team and working with our CASA students! This program is one of the things we’re most proud of and it is so wonderful to see how beneficial the experience was for everyone. Thanks for talking to us, Anna! And thanks to Scott Brevda for providing all the CASA photos in this post.