Mixing arts and academics helps immigrant kids feel at home in Philly

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The kids who were crowded into a second-floor classroom at Gilbert Spruance School in Northeast Philadelphia came from every corner of the world: Uzbekistan. Syria. Mexico.

But they all wanted to hear Chester Rodriguez do something distinctly American. They wanted him to beat box. "Chester! Chester!" they chanted.

And for their enthusiasm, the 15-year-old who was born in the Dominican Republic rewarded them with about 45 seconds of rhythmic delight. The crowd went wild.

The casual joy of the moment captured precisely what makes the School District of Philadelphia’s Immigrant Children and Youth Summer Program so special. The four-week initiative — which exists somewhere between summer school and summer camp — gives recent immigrants and refugee children a chance to feel comfortable in school. It’s the kind of comfort that can be elusive for kids who have just arrived here, bombarded as they are with strange sights, sounds, and customs.

"The first week, kids are kind of demure and well-behaved, and by like the third week, things are a little bit out of hand," said Elizabeth Weinstein, a dance and movement instructor with the program.

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