As part of orientation, about 550 MIT student volunteers visited 13 Cambridge elementary schools during the eighth annual CityDays Festival on September 3.
The MIT undergraduates, many of them freshmen, spent the day in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms, presenting educational activities and having fun. A typical project involved building a one-foot bridge with toothpicks, gumdrops and marshmallows.
"The kids' problem-solving skills were interesting," said sophomore Kendall B. Mcconnel, who visited the Agassiz School on Sacramento Street. "For example, one of the solutions for building the bridge was to shorten the distance."
Junior Marlene R. Cohen and sophomore Timothy M. Gorton worked on the same project with two fifth-grade girls.
"One of them decided to adopt Marlene's identity," Mr. Gorton recalled. "She switched nametags with Marlene and declared to the class that everyone should call her Marlene for the rest of the day. When Marlene and I walked into the cafeteria for lunch, the two girls called out that they had saved us seats at the table with their friends. They were very sad to see us leave, asking hopefully if we would be back to do other activities."
Ms. Cohen, Mr. Mcconnel and Mr. Gorton plan to participate in similar programs in the future. "The experience was obviously very valuable to the children, and we had a great time as well," said Mr. Gorton. Ms. Cohen said, "I had a great time!"
"I like volunteer work," said Mr. Mcconnel. "It's interesting and a change from my usual routine. The kids are wonderful. I was really impressed with their enthusiasm. It was infectious."
The day's activities began on Kresge Oval with opening remarks by Deputy Superintendent Patrick Murphy of the Cambridge Public Schools and Sandford Gilmore of the Efficacy Institute. Cambridge Mayor Francis Duehay and Paul Parravano of the MIT Office of Government and Community Relations also spoke.
The CityDays Festival serves as a gateway to the many community service events coordinated through MIT's Public Service Center.
A version of this article appeared in the September 15, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 44, Number 5).