Rise to the Challenge
By Sophia Cetina
For 38 years, Challenge Camp has fostered meaningful summers for curious kids. The program, which is based at Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, is for children who have been identified as gifted, academically motivated learners. Teachers come from a variety of academic settings, both public and private, and include “professional musicians, scientists, actors, and artists.” Among them is Rye High School History teacher Sara Charles, who captivated students this summer with classes such as Civics Rocks!, Home Design Within Reach, and Her-Story. Her Civics class, for kids in grades 4-9, focused on fundamental rights — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — and how the government “put[s] these ideals into action.”
In addition to debates, researching bills and laws, and congressional role-playing, campers also enjoyed a week of presentations by local legislators. The kids listened while these leaders described fundamental campaign principles, highlighted the importance of activism, and offered advice to young citizens.
New York State Senator Shelley Mayer, Westchester County Legislator MaryJane Shimsky, New York State Assemblymen David Buchwald and Steven Otis, Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, and Chief-of-Staff to the Town of Rye Debbie Reisner all lent their voices to the program.
Mayer, who began her senatorial term in April, highlighted the need to be an advocate in every sense of the word. She encouraged young people to get involved in local campaigns and emphasized the importance of being open-minded. Cooperation and understanding are essential components to getting things done, she noted. Feiner, in turn, explained the importance of local government by discussing his efforts towards upgrading the public pool in his community, establishing a dog park, and extending the bicycle path along the Bronx River Parkway.
Also recognized by the panel were the less obvious roles played by government. Shimsky spoke to students about how county government is in charge of “the kinds of things we don’t think about every day but cannot do without.” This includes road maintenance, sewage control, bus systems, and Westchester Community College. In adherence to the fundamental nature of Challenge Camp, Reisner challenged her audience to get involved in their communities and to take initiative with issues they are passionate about. She notably stated, “Never underestimate the power of raising your hand and saying, ‘I’ll do it.’”
Instructor Sara Charles summed up the experience, “The young students realized that these politicians really care about serving communities by making positive changes. They walked away with a renewed interest in civic engagement, and it’s up to them to elevate this interest so that it becomes action.”
State Assemblyman Steve Otis with participants of Challenge Camp