Many boys spend their summers making friends, challenging themselves with new skills, and playing outdoors. Some, however, face barriers that can prevent them from having those same rewarding experiences.
Since 2002, the City Saints program at St. Christopher’s School has provided academic, emotional, and social enrichment activities for underserved youth from across the Richmond metro area. Selected by their school counselors, rising third through fifth-grade students come to StC’s campus to experience summer in a meaningful, enjoyable way.
“For some of them, it’s the best two weeks of their summer,” said Peter Cross, City Saints Program Director. Cross, who also teaches math at StC, stressed the importance of mixing academic activities with recreation and creativity. Students at City Saints sharpen their math or science skills every morning, but they do it through hands-on craft projects and exercises. Other students will learn languages, but they’ll complete the lessons through interactive games. They then spend the afternoon on the playground and at the pool. “We want the program to be academic, and we want them to learn, but we also want it to be fun.”
This year, students in the classroom built functioning replicas of the human lung, completed math puzzles, and built and launched hand-painted water rockets. Students earned their swimming certifications and were introduced to Spanish for the first time. The range of activities at City Saints engages boys’ minds, keeps them active, and introduces them to new ideas and interests.
City Saints counselors are often also StC students. “I love watching our St. Christopher’s students connect with other students in Richmond,” said Sarah Hubard, a counselor and fifth-grade teacher at StC. “We’ve had a great ten days so far of making those connections and building relationships.”
In addition to athletics and academics, an important aspect of the City Saints program is a focus on mindfulness. Sonia McDonnell, a camp counselor and Spanish teacher at StC’s Lower School, goes through breathing exercises with students and encourages them to use their imaginations when they’re feeling overwhelmed. McDonnell believes that many children often lack the time or skills to reflect, ground themselves and focus. “We encourage them to breathe in, breathe out, and realize that you're in control of your emotions,” said McDonnell. “As a school, as a program, it’s important for us to give students that time because you can’t assume that every parent is giving them coping skills.”
For Cross, who personally picks the students up at their schools every morning, it’s very important to give the boys a rich, stress-free summer. Many of them face transportation challenges or other circumstances that ordinarily make it difficult to have the kinds of experiences that City Saints provides. “I want to give them a chance to get out of where they are, have a safe place where they can have a good time, meet people, make friends,” said Cross, “I want to give these kids the best two weeks of their summer.”