On May 8, I (Charles) visited La Clase Mágica at St. Leo’s Mission in Solana Beach (a few photos and a short video are here ). Finally, after a month of other site visits, etc., I'm able to share my experience at LCM. The site, founded and fostered for decades by Olga Vásquez, is now directed by community leaders under the auspices of a local nonprofit known as La Colonia de Eden Gardens, Inc. (LCDEG). The nonprofit covers much if not all of the needs of LCM including the funding for the two long-term site coordinators; Suzanna Romero Reiss and Jan Kooistra. After almost 29 years of sharing space with Head Start on Mission grounds, this year LCM moved to the Mission’s community kitchen. While initially disruptive, the move has provided for greater access to more space, greater mobility and disconnection from other, non-LCM activities taking place on Mondays and Wednesday from 3 to 5:30. Additionally, the children have access to an adjacent patio that was recently roofed over to keep off the rain and sun. Activities also spill over onto the asphalt multi-purpose lot outside the kitchen, providing space for a broad range of activities to take place.
La Clase Mágica
La Clase Mágica, located at St. Leo’s Mission, Solana Beach
Days/hours of operation: two days per week—Monday & Wednesday p.m.4- to 5:30
Partners: La Colonia de Eden Guarden, Inc. (LCEG); St Leo’s Mission; Circle Volunteers, The Center for Academic and social & Advancement (CASA); Mira Costa College, Westview High School Robotics Program and up to this year, Head Start, a national program that promotes school readiness.
Activities: reading, art, robotics, homework help, board games
Number of children: 35 enrolled reflecting a 25-30 typical attendance
Number of graduate/undergraduate students: 10-12
When I arrived, some of the younger children were beginning to enter the kitchen. We set up tables and chairs together inside, and the children began to engage in a variety of activities, including homework help, informal laptop and board games, internet and digital story activities. As the site filled up, with about 25-30 LCMers ranging from pre-K to 11thgrade. On this day they were almost entirely K-8 children, together with 10-12 Mira Costa College students, taking a sociology course taught by Nicole Trousset. There were also 5-6 Westview High School Robotics Club students preparing the children for a robotics competition. Additionally, there were 6-7 Mission Circle Volunteers, helping the children with their homework and other activities that the little ones chose. These adults are retired professionals, mostly former teachers, who in 2009 switched from serving Tijuana orphanages to assisting at LCM when it became more difficult to cross the border in and out of Mexico.
After a while in the kitchen, a few of the children migrated outside to the patio where there were a number of picnic tables and benches. They sat down with a Mission Circle Volunteers and worked on various activities, including card games, board games, and reading, their main goal is to help children with their homework. Regardless of the activity, these volunteers also take time to share specialized knowledge they have acquired throughout their own lives and professions. They have contributed to a considerable library of picture books and both children’s and young adult literature to LCM. The children routinely sit with an elder, choose a book, and they sit quietly read to each other. Clearly, the adults and children already knew each other and were very comfortable with each other. Soon, the students from Mira Costa Community College and Westview High School arrived and as more children and adolescents arrived, they approached these older peers and began to engage in a variety of art and STEM activities, including maker projects and robotics.
Inside, some of the children were doing their homework with support from several Mira Costa students and two or three Mission Circle volunteers. The middle school students mostly helped each other with their homework in small groups of 2 or 3. Outside in the patio, an adult volunteer named Jim was reading a picture book with Sara (a pseudonym), an elementary age child. From time to time, Sara would read the words on the page to Jim and laugh at the funny picture, and Jim chuckled along with her. A couple of Mira Costa students also sat and read, mostly with elementary school age kids. Out on the lot, the Westview students had brought a kind of Erector Set robot with electronics for wireless controls. They worked with the children, mostly elementary students, to put together the pieces of the robot -- a metal cube on wheels with a movable lever on top -- and to set up a table and chairs from which they could control the robot. First, they set up two plastic traffic barriers and showed the children how to operate the robot so that it moved out and around the barriers and then back to the control table. Two of the children began to argue about whose turn it was, and the high school student calmly told them that everyone would get the same chance and amount of time to run the robot, so it didn’t matter who went first. The two young boys later were so polite that they couldn’t decide who should go first. Eric, their older peer from Mira Costa, said, “Juan, you can be first this go-around and Eddie can go first next go-around.”
The children were very quiet and intent on learning how to control the robot. Eric showed the children how to set the robot up so that it could hold and “shoot” a rubber ball, and he and the children set up two crates as baskets. The kids learned to maneuver the robot around the barriers and position it to shoot a basket. One of the younger children struggled with the remote controls. His partner asked him, “Can I show you?” he stepped in and said, “It’s like this,” and he talked the other boy through the procedure, then handed him back the controls. The other boy still struggled a bit, but other boykept quietly talking him through the activity, and he soon became very adept. He guided the robot to make a basket, first from one direction, then another. Then he offered the controls to another child. As the children continued, they were all very focused on learning about robotics and in particular, learning how to maneuver the robot, shoot a basket. They eagerly urged each other on, shouting excitedly whenever the robot scored.
Everybody won. It was clear that the robotics activity was a hit and the level of vocal mutual support was high. For an outdoor activity in which mostly young boys were involved, the entire activity was very orderly. There was laughter and playful expressions of excitement throughout the site, but the whole site seemed surprisingly low key. Everyone seemed very comfortable and relaxed. Both inside and outside, the Mira Costa and Westview students, and the adult volunteers were all very focused, questioning the children about what they would like to do and letting them shape the activities. The culture of the program was consistently evident, as if implicitly ingrained in every participant, both younger and older. I talked with a couple of Westview students, and they were emphatic about letting children lead the way, yet aware that they themselves also had to show or model, rather than teach, “the ways we learn best.” The older adults appeared calmly attentive and completely committed to encouraging the children in whatever they chose to do. I talked with one Mira Costa College student, who was just finishing his associate degree and had been accepted at UC Berkeley. He was very excited to learn that there are programs much like LCM near the Berkeley campus. “I want to keep doing this,” he said. In this spirit of ever-expanding learning, LCM continues to thrive as an engaging, collaborative community-based program.