A Summer of Service: What I Learned on Philly's Play Streets

By Administrator RSS Wed, November 17, 2021

Marian Sosa spent the summer volunteering for the Free Library, with Youth Services, the Summer of Wonder, and on Philadelphia's Play Streets. Here is what she had to say about her experience...

Summer in the streets of Philadelphia, like the summer in many cities all across the nation, oftentimes means that there’s going to be a lot more kids around. With school out for the summer, kids find themselves with a lot more free time on their hands to do, essentially, whatever they want (unless they’ve got summer school, that is). I like to think that kids these days spend their summers the same way I did: riding bikes down my street, hanging out with other kids from the block, and going to local parks and hanging out at the playground for hours.

However, school districts are struggling more and more every year to make educational impacts on their students, with requirements becoming harder to meet due to unstable scheduling (thanks again, COVID), funding gaps, and—most of all—an increasing lack of learning and educational activities in the summer. Kids end up losing the educational progress they’ve made in school during the year and falling behind in school.

This phenomenon is known as the "summer slide" and it can have long term, cumulative effects on students. The longer it goes unaddressed, the more difficult it is to reverse. It can leave kids years behind their grade level and, worst of all, it ends up increasing the risk of kids dropping out before they graduate high school. Addressing this issue is essential in helping kids thrive and uplifting people, families, and communities out of poverty.

This is where the Free Library’s Summer of Wonder program comes in! It aims to help make up for the lack of educational / learning opportunities during the summer by promoting the love of reading to kids of all ages, all across the city. Reading and literacy is key to helping kids stay engaged and on track, and can even help kids maintain up to two years worth of learning all in just one summer.

This is where I come in! I was part of a small team that went around to different spots across Philadelphia to read books to children, hang out and play literacy games with them, and give them books! These spots are known as PlayStreets which provide a safe, fun place for Philadelphia's children to play each summer. The designated streets are closeed off from oncoming traffic during the day so that kids can play freely. The sites also shared free lunches with the children every weekday. We walked around and visited multiple PlayStreets everyday with a big wagon filled to the brim with books to give out to kids (for free!) and literacy activities, all with the goal of trying to get kids excited about reading and learning.

To put it in simpler words, my job this summer was to be a book fairy...

I initially joined the Free Library through the AmeriCorps VISTA program because I wanted an opportunity to become more engaged with Philadelphia communities. Philadelphia is one of the nation’s landmark cities, with history dating back to its foundation in 1682, and is filled with loads of life and culture. Walking around different PlayStreets and neighborhoods in Philadelphia every day for a job was such a unique, thought-provoking, and memorable experience. It gave the team and I the chance to really get to know the city; we became a very small part of multiple local blocks and communities for a brief amount of time. For me, personally, it became a very gratifying, fulfilling, and eye-opening experience.

My team and I had the opportunity to see Philly through a lens that I think not everyone gets to see. When non-Philadelphians think of the city, they think of the Rocky steps, the Art Museum, and Independence Halll. Philadelphia is more than just a tourist attraction. People don’t tend to think of the nit and grit of what it’s like to actually live in a city that’s been so strongly marked by the history and politics of this country. They don’t think of the average, every day citizen that calls Philadelphia their home and, let alone, the ability and resiliency that I’ve seen so many kids in this city have to strive forward and overcome strenuous circumstances. 

This city, like many other cities, is a prime example of how much work there still is to be done, while simultaneously also being a beacon of hope for the future and a prime example of how much strength and resilience there is in community. Philadelphia’s got its very own life, spirit, and soul.

It’s fair to say that the programming ended up impacting more than just the kids we were engaging with. It made its mark on my outlook of Philadelphia, urban life, community, and resilience.

When I was initially approached about writing this blog entry regarding my experiences this summer, I was excited to have a tiny corner in the Free Library’s blog where I could look back, acknowledging and expressing my gratitude for such an impactful experience. I want to pay homage to my experiences in the city this summer, show my respect to the people I had the privilege of meeting and interacting with, and honor the lessons and stories that have truly made me think twice about what it means to persevere and rise above it all.

Marian Sosa (she/her) graduated from Penn State University with a B.A. in Psychological and Social Sciences and a Minor in History. Post-graduation and post-pandemic, she has dedicated herself to volunteering in various nonprofit organizations, such as the Nationalities Service Center where she worked with people of all different cultural backgrounds and life situations, and the YMCA in Barcelona, Spain, where she helped teach Spanish classes for female immigrants, English and History classes for young adults, and worked with the after-school programming for kids ages 5-15. In the future, she hopes to continue to gain experience in community development and social justice.

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