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Kitchen chemistry, pinhole cameras bring Cambridge kids to MIT

Approximately 500 Cambridge elementary school children from grades four through six will visit MIT on September 2 for a day full of sports, crafts, education and fun.

At the same time, around 150 MIT students will be going out to serve in various Cambridge-area agencies. They will be participating in the third annual CityDays Festival, part of a year-long program run by the MIT Public Service Center called CityDays: A Two-Way Street. CityDays was designed to strengthen MIT students' ties with the surrounding community by promoting their involvement in community affairs through service early on in their life at the Institute.

The children will participate in educational activities such as kitchen chemistry and the making of pinhole cameras as well as activities designed purely for fun, such as jello-snarfing and toothpick bridge building. They will also be exposed to some of the Institute's research through a variety of lab tours and demonstrations. Labs participating include the Media Lab, which will put on a virtual reality game, and the Laboratory for Electronic and Electromagnetic Systems (LEES), which will do its famous "MITEE Mouse" demonstration (a microprocessor-controlled robot mouse that can find its way out of a maze).

On campus the kids will be hosted largely by incoming MIT freshmen as well as some upperclassmen. "By getting the MIT students either to interact with the Cambridge kids or to work with a local agency early on, we are hoping that they will realize the importance as well as the rewards of community involvement," said Tracy Purinton, Public Service Center CityDays coordinator. "The earlier MIT students incorporate public service into their busy lives, the more likely they will continue that involvement and the more impact it will have on the community."

"CityDays is just one example of MIT's ongoing commitment to our schools"Cambridge School Superintendent Mary Lou McGrath said. "Pairing college students with public school students can have a tremendous positive effect on youngsters' lives. We are very grateful for MIT's active participation in improving our schools and in helping to improve the learning and lives of the students of this city."

Also as part of the CityDays Festival, some 150 MIT students will be going out to serve in various Cambridge-area agencies. They will offer their services and go on short informational tours at each site in order to get a sense of what they might offer to an agency on a regular basis. Some participating agencies include the YMCA, the Cambridge Youth Project and CASPAR (Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Rehabilitation).

The program has met with praise from the community. Parent Laura Medeiros said, "I think MIT provides a great service to the Cambridge community when they get involved with our children. My son suffers from a learning disability so I am particularly pleased when he finds that learning can be pleasurable. Please keep up the good work!"

The CityDays Festival kicks off the year-long CityDays program. This program includes the successful LINKS program that allows MIT students to volunteer in kindergarten through eighth-grade classrooms during the academic year. The center also has a fellowship program that employs 15 students full time during the January Independent Activities Period and three students during summer break, enabling them to work with Science Resource Teachers and program coordinators at area schools.

A version of this article appeared in the August 31, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 3).

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