Babcock explains themed programs for all ages at Porch Discussion

Sherra Babcock, director of the Department of Education, leads a porch discussion Thursday morning. Babcock spoke with Chautauquans about the importance of creating family memories. Photo by Lauren Rock.

Rabab Al-Sharif | Staff Writer

Sherra Babcock, director of the Department of Education and Youth Services, wants to give kids something to go home and talk about.

Chautauqua Institution should provide the young community on the grounds with opportunities that will challenge them, she said, but also the opportunities that make them want to visit.

“One objective that we have had is to offer some things — when it makes sense — that will allow kids at whatever age to go home to the dinner table and have something to say about the theme of the week,” Babcock said.

Babcock discussed the importance of creating family memories at Thursday morning’s Trustees Porch Discussion.

Children are becoming more segmented in their lives, Babcock said, even at young ages.

That happens in part because they are identifying personal interests, but she said the Department of Education and Youth Services wants to be a force for balance in their lives.

“If they’re seriously intellectual, we want them to know there’s a lake out there and a golf course,” Babcock said. “If they’re all about having fun all the time, let them know there are some really wonderful authors who they might learn something from.”

Gwen Papania, director of youth services, said her area’s programs bring children to the Amphitheater or the Hall of Philosophy for programs, when the subjects are appropriate.

Bringing kids from Club to see programs in the community shows them where to go for events they might find interesting, Babcock said.

“We want those kids who are 15, who are getting ready to graduate Club, to know that there is a vibrant opportunity here,” Babcock said.

Dave Allen, a Chautauquan in his 31st season, said he likes the idea of bringing children to programming in the Amp and elsewhere.

“I think the idea of bringing the SAC kids up and integrating them into the broader community is a great idea,” he said. “That was something as a grouper I never got a chance to do, or as a counselor.”

Chautauqua strives to foster inter-generational experiences, said board of trustees chair George Snyder. It’s not just to have parents and children enjoying activities together, he said, but grandparents too.

The Family Entertainment Series, Snyder said, is a perfect example of something the Institution built specifically for families.

Babcock said another opportunity for families to learn and enjoy something together is the Water Fair next Sunday on Bestor Plaza.

The fair will kick off the week about water with National Geographic. It will include booths where people can learn more about what’s happening with Chautauqua Lake, and an aquarium full of water and fish from the lake.

“Sometimes segmenting gives an opportunity for an understanding at a particular level but can then be discussed among the groups,” Babcock said, “and sometimes mixing people together gives opportunities for these family members.”

Hugh Butler, president of the Chautauqua Property Owners Association, asked what youth services was doing to educate the children about safety, because he has seen teenagers trying to perfect the art of texting while riding a bike.

“We say make eye contact at an intersection,” Butler said. “I think that probably gets to the heart of the matter, rather than telling them to stop at stop signs that they just ignore anyway.”

Boys’ and Girls’ Club Groups 1 and 2, Papania said, participate in the Bike Rodeo program, a safety session taught by police. Older students in Club get weekly reminders on bike safety, she said.

Papania has decided this year to acknowledge both adults and children who stop at intersections, she said.

“I think what we can all do — staff, residents and guests — is to acknowledge when they do something right and give them a reminder when they’re not doing something right, “ Papania said.

Joan Smith, year-round Chautauquan, said another safety issue she has noticed is people driving around the grounds with their car windows up.

“They can’t hear a thing,” Smith said. “They can’t hear the little kid or the bell or anything else.”

There should be at least one window down whenever anyone is driving anywhere on the grounds, she said.

“I think we just need to put a reminder in and say, ‘Hey, look, this is shared space,’ ” Smith said.