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Freshmen Explore Cambridge

By Brian Rosenberg
Editor in Chief

Hundreds of freshmen received a different sort of orientation this week during the "City Days: A Two-Way Street" program, which brought MIT students and Cambridge elementary school students together for two days.

City Days, jointly produced by the Cambridge School Department and several offices at MIT, took place over two days. Monday was the "MIT goes to the City" half of the program, followed on Tuesday by "The City comes to MIT."

On Monday, more than 600 MIT students, most of whom were freshmen, walked through the city on their way to schools and other community centers. Students were assigned to all 14 Cambridge public schools and 14 other agencies, including the Cambridge Furniture Bank and the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcohol Rehabilitation (CASPAR). Once there, the students painted, raked, swept, and performed other public services.

Tuesday brought approximately 450 fourth through sixth graders to campus, where they toured, played games, and ate with MIT students. The two days were linked by a keynote convocation, held at 7 p.m. Monday in Kresge Auditorium. The convocation included speeches from MIT President Charles M. Vest, Harvard University President Neil Rudenstine, and Kenneth E. Reeves, Cambridge mayor and chair of the Cambridge School Committee.

Event gets mixed reaction

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Travis R. Merritt, who helped plan City Days, thought the event was successful. "Given the fact that this was our first time through, and that it was on such a large scale, I thought we did well," he said.

Several freshmen who participated in City Days were less enthusiastic. "On Monday, we took a long, boring tour of Cambridge," said Elaine A. Stefanis '96. "Our group got split in half. ... We were supposed to be painting for CASPAR, but our directions were wrong and we never got there," she said.

Maria S. Redin '96 also thought the tour of Cambridge was boring, but enjoyed the rest of the day. "We painted a day care center, and it looked like it really needed it. It was definitely worthwhile," she said.

Cle Haywood, custodial supervisor for the Cambridge School Department, said he was pleased with the program. Students who visited schools cleaned up the schoolyards and planted chrysanthemums, he said. "I appreciate anyone that's going to do something" for the schools, he said. "The plants and yards looked very good, and I heard a few comments at different schools this week about them. I applaud MIT and the students for doing it," he added.

Juno Choe '96 objected to the work he did at a Cambridge school. "We were all exhausted afterward, and we didn't get anything out of it. I think the school was using the freshmen to get some good public relations," he said.

Event not perfect, planners agree

Ateev Mehrotra '94, a City Days planner in the Public Service Center, agreed there were problems with Monday's activities. "Our tour guides were mainly R/O workers, many of whom don't live in Cambridge themselves. Also, Cambridge doesn't really have tourist areas," he said.

"The purpose of the tour was to get people walking around in Cambridge, which hadn't been done before, and that happened. To do this again, we'd have to make it more interesting," he added. "There's a lot of room for improvement, but the community service was fun, and I think everyone gained something from it."

Odysseas D. Kostas '95, another PSC planner, thought Monday's events "worked out really well." He said a few schools "had a problem with getting projects, but it gave students an opportunity to go to the community and get interested in volunteering."

Over 1000 host schoolchildren

Nearly 1000 MIT students, including about half of the freshmen class, showed up Tuesday to host about 450 Cambridge schoolchildren, Merritt said. Organized by living group, the students split into two groups. One group hosted an activity "such as kite-building, paper airplane construction, or jello slurping, and offered it five times" during the day, Merritt said.

The other group traveled from activity to activity with a group of Cambridge children. "Groups were usually made up of between 20-22 people, with a two-to-one ratio of kids to MIT students," Merritt said.

Impressions of the Cambridge children varied widely. "Taking the kids around was more interesting than hosting an activity," said Han Shu '95, who helped coordinate Chi Phi's involvement in City Days. "I saw quite a few kids get close to the freshmen -- they were hugging and telling jokes," he said.

"Some of the kids were really rowdy, but others were really nice," said Sisela S. Park '96. "Before lunch, the groups were better. Afterward, they started coming late and falling apart. It wasn't well coordinated -- some of the leaders didn't know where to go. But it was fun to play with the little kids," she said.

"The kids came, and we babysat them," Choe said. "It wasn't fun, it was work. I don't have anything against community service, I just didn't like the kids," he said.

Mehrotra said after talking to students who had taken the children around, he had "heard a few war stories." "Some people said the kids were a pain. People had to chase them sometimes, and some of them got lost. Kids are kids, though. I think most of the stories had a tinge of amusement," he added.

Merritt said some form of the City Days program will continue through this academic year. "We're launching sustained programs to link MIT student and faculty talents to the Cambridge schools, especially the elementary schools," he said.

One such program will bring MIT students from a single living group to elementary schools to create science clubs for sixth graders, Merritt said. The clubs will culminate in a big science fair, he said. Another program will provide after-school sports programs for the students, Merritt added. Other programs may also be created.