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For GEAR UP Students, Spring Break Is the Perfect Time for Learning

NVCC-Waterbury AmeriCorps members guide leadership, financial accountability, college readiness and service learning days

For 25 eager seventh and eighth graders, April vacation was about more than late mornings and lazy days this year. From April 14-17, this handful of Waterbury GEAR UP participants were up early, on campus and completely immersed in four days of activities, hands-on learning and local field trips.

Known to students as “College Week,” the program designed and led by NVCC students and Waterbury AmeriCorps members Max Arzu and Liz Bullard, included team building and leadership, financial know-how, college exploration and service learning.

Arzu, who mentors city children and volunteers throughout Waterbury on a number of community service projects, responded to the call for ideas from Dave Celotto, GEAR UP director, who was looking for ways to keep students engaged over spring break.

"This type of experience is a perfect fit for our GEAR UP students," said Celotto. "It's education about life, not abstract concepts that you read about in a textbook in a classroom somewhere. Having NVCC as a launching pad for field trips and tying in the College experience gave these students a means to an end - and the end was a real, solid takeaway of personal growth and real-world understanding."

The experience hit home for students, who shared their takeaways at the final cohort gathering on Friday, Apr. 25. For many, the experience had been empowering and brought with it a sobering dose of reality.

“I realized this week that any goal can be accomplished if people work together,” said Deyshaun Phetis, a West Side Middle School student.

“College is going to take some hard work, but I realize that college is for me,” said North End Middle School student Justin Alamo.

Here’s what they were up to…

Day 1: Empower Leadership Sports

Students collaborated on team building and leadership challenges by maneuvering through a 50 foot high ropes course in a tree canopy, facing fears of heights and stepping out of their comfort zones to complete all tasks.  “No matter how much safety equipment was attached, you still had to face your fears," said North End Middle School student Liaba Moughal. 

Day 2:  Finances

Staff at Ion Bank in Naugatuck led students in a mock budget activity, helping students realize the true cost of living on their own.  Students budgeted for mortgages/ rent, transportation, groceries, all while considering the average monthly income of a high school graduate entering the workforce.

Day 3: College Experience

GEAR UP students found their way around NVCC through a scavenger hunt, in which one group photo-documented themselves all around the campus! Everyone participated in a round table discussion about what it's like to be a college student before taking a tour of Waterbury UConn.

Day 4: Service Learning

Students learned all about Fulton Park's history, design, and function and then literally got their hands dirty, helping to spread mulch, clear brush and clean litter in preparation for the spring season. West Side Middle School student Jazmin Rivera-Calderon said, “It was interesting learning about the history of the park I spend a lot of time in. It also felt good to give back and help improve it.”


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