Porch discussion addresses family, youth programs

Kreable Young | Staff Photographer
Sherra Babcock, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, speaks at Wednesday’s Trustees Porch Discussion on the porch of the Hultquist Center. Babcock’s presentation was titled “Family and Youth Experiences and Programs.”

A group of roughly 25 parents, grandparents and friends of youth gathered Wednesday morning to engage in conversation with Institution leaders concerning children’s experiences in Chautauqua.

The discussion, titled “Family and Youth Experiences and Programs,” transpired on the Hultquist Center porch. It was led by Sherra Babcock, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, and Matt Ewalt, associate director of Education and Youth Services.

Babcock and Ewalt took the porch discussion as an opportunity to explore youth services within the Institution and receive feedback from families regarding what they would like to see from these programs in the future.

Society is changing, Babcock said, and along with it the needs of children and families are altering. Youth education and services within the Institution, then, must accommodate these new needs.

“We’re opening up the conversation with kids and their parents, so we can begin to expand our options,” Babcock said.

There are currently several programs for children and teenagers on Chautauqua’s grounds. Children’s School, geared for children ages 3 to 5, is a developmental preschool that focuses on social skills, recreation and education. Boys’ and Girls’ Club is a day camp for youth ages 7 to 15. Then there are Special Studies classes, which offer lessons on a wide variety of skills and topics for all ages. Aside from these programs, Chautauqua also hosts several smaller activities, such as the Youth Scholar Program in Weeks One through Four and CHQUP in Weeks One through Six, which allows high school-and college-aged students an opportunity to discuss morning lectures in their own environment.

Babcock said there is currently a drive to adapt these programs and make them more attractive and meaningful to a changing community. As fewer and fewer Chautauquans return for the full nine weeks of summer, and as more newcomers visit the grounds, youth services need to be more widely publicized and adjusted to meet a changing community’s needs.

“Our programs are still incredibly vibrant,” Babcock said. “They’re wonderful opportunities for children to learn. But for a lot of people, Chautauqua is their vacation, and they want to spend time with their children. They resent shuttling their kids off.”

Ewalt said that, while many parents may be hesitant to divide the family by sending their children off to youth programs, the goal of these services is not to separate families, but to bring them together. As a result, many children’s activities mirror the Institution’s weekly themes in an attempt to bridge the gap between adult and youth education. An example is the way Week Six’s focus on Brazil will be captured in children’s programs. While the Chautauqua Literary and Science Circle reads Pele’s autobiography, CLSC Young Readers will be reading Keeper, the story of a Brazilian child who plays soccer.

“As much as the adults are engaged in a subject on the grounds, the kids are too,” Ewalt said. “And hopefully at the end of the day, they’re talking about it at the dinner table.”

Another aspect of youth programs that troubled community members was the lack of an arts education after children leave Children’s School and enroll in the Boys’ and Girls’ Club.

Phil Lerman, a parent in attendance, voiced his interest in seeing more arts opportunities across all the disciplines for older children.

“Children’s School does a wonderful job of integrating the arts,” Lerman said. “What makes me sad is that I have to suspend my kids’ musical education when they go to Club. It seems strange to say this about a place like Chautauqua, but we need to break the arts desert.”

Ewalt and Babcock agreed that, while there are many arts opportunities for older children in Special Studies classes, it could be possible to integrate a greater arts education into Club activities. Ewalt said that even further diversification of Club programming is not beyond the realm of possibility.

“I could see a hybrid model that incorporates the richness of Club, but gives kids more choices,” he said. “And not just in art. In science, in literature. I’d even love to see a filmmaking class.”

Finally, Babcock and Ewalt are working to streamline the application process for youth activities. Ewalt said he would like to see a majority of bulky application paperwork moved online for efficiency and would also like to raise greater awareness of how to access and complete applications.

“Such a great program has such a restrictive process,” said longtime Chautauquan Carol Rufener, who has spent 36 seasons at the Institution and had trouble accessing youth service applications this summer. “It could be made much easier.”

This week, the Board of Trustees Porch Discussion served as a forum for community members to voice concerns and comments regarding youth and family services. Babcock, Ewalt and others in the administration plan to take these suggestions into account as they move forward with changes in the programs. The porch discussion series will resume next at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday on the Hultquist Center porch with a theme of “Community and Faith.”

*Correction: The Daily’s Trustees Porch Discussion coverage should have stated that the CHQUP program for high school- and college-aged students runs Weeks One through Six, not just Week Six. Registration is handled through Special Studies and online at chqtickets.com. Changes have been made to this article to reflect this correction.