By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Politicians visited a YMCA summer camp at P.S. 261 Tuesday after recent noise complaints from Boerum Hill neighbors.
The visitors, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Councilmember Stephen Levin, additionally highlighted benefits of the summer learning environment.
“This is a great public-private partnership of amazing people bringing kids into a summer camp environment where they can learn about math and science,” Gillibrand said. “To get kids this age interested — 8, 9 and 10 years old — inspires them and hopefully leads them to explore careers in these fields.
“I asked every little girl if they thought this was fun and they all said, ‘Yes, this is fun.’ That’s the key to getting them to want to become scientists in the future.”
A big part of the problem is that this is the first year that camps have been located at the school. There are also four different camps running throughout the day at P.S. 261; so while many of them are inside in classrooms, there are still a handful participating outside.
“It's kids being kids,” said Dave Andrews, executive director of the Dodge YMCA. “People in the community are hearing kids, ‘Yelling at the top of their lungs’ all day and they’re not used to it.
“That school has been there for a long time, most likely longer than most of the residents of that block, and even though this if the first year we’ve been doing this here, when you move next to a school you have to realize that these kind of programs will be going on.”
Gillibrand’s arrival at the school was a coincidence and not because of complaints. She is a strong supporter of encouraging math and science amongst children and wanted to highlight the work of The New York Academy of Science (NYAS).
NYAS has started a program, which is quickly spreading across the country and in Spain and Australia,that pairs kids with Ph.D. students to teach them science over the summer. Kids seem to really like the program that forces them to propose questions to the Ph.Ds who then demonstrate the answers through experiments.
“Seventy-five percent of jobs by 2020 are going to have to have some technical competence that kids aren’t getting through schools and need to get it from programs like this,” said Ellis Rubinstein, president and CEO of NYAS.
Levin’s arrival at the school was a direct result of neighborhood complaints that have been brought up by the Boerum Hill Association. Levin was a big part of raising money for the courtyard that the camps are using so he has a vested interest in making sure it runs smoothly.
“It’s a challenge for every parent in New York City that has a child in public school in being able to provide them with something to do during the summer so they can continue to go to their jobs,” Levin said. “Brooklyn is not an easily affordable place to live so it’s a challenge to do on a tight budget and having affordable afterschool and summer programs are key.”
The camps are doing what they can to cut down on the noise. While they recently held a movie night that upset local residents, they said that next time they plan on better informing the neighbors.
When reached for comment, the Boerum Hill Association President Howard Kolins acknowledged that there is no easy solution to this issue and stressed that better communication between the camps and neighborhood residents is necessary.
“I know from another community issue that I went through that some people are not very tolerant to children's voices, which has nothing to do with P.S. 261,” Kolins said. “A big factor is that there is more noise coming from the camp than people are used to during the school year. The movie night was a problem too, but hopefully with better communication the two sides can come to some understanding.
“To me it seems quieter in the last week and a half,” Kolins said. “So there has been some progress.”