Camp Win gives homeless NYC students an educational edge during summer

When school lets out for summer and students aren’t in the classroom on a daily basis, they risk losing the knowledge and reading skills they gained during the school year — a concept known as “learning loss.”

A free program called Camp Win, operated by Women in Need (Win), a New York City-based homeless services provider, aims to help homeless students avoid just that.

“Homeless children start the school year behind other children — it’s a fact. They move around to more schools, they have higher levels of absenteeism,” Win’s president and CEO Christine Quinn told amNewYork. “So we can’t lose one day’s worth of education.”

A typical day at Camp Win — which runs Monday through Friday for 10 weeks, and puts an emphasis on STEM and the arts — can involve anything from lessons focused on math or engineering to field trips to New York City institutions, Win’s director of children’s services Tamara Ortiz said.

This summer’s itinerary included rock climbing at a Manhattan bouldering gym, theater, playwriting and music workshops, a day of writing code with Morgan Stanley employees and a trip to the New York Hall of Science. In past years, campers have visited museums, firehouses and the New York Aquarium.

This summer, the program has served close to 700 children so far, Ortiz said.

“Education-based camps are critical for every New York City child over the summer, but they’re urgently needed for homeless children,” said Quinn, who took the helm at the 35-year-old organization nearly three years ago.

Camp Win also helps out their parents, the former City Council speaker and mayoral candidate noted.

“Mom, if she needs to go to work, to a job interview … can do that without worrying about the expense, which she may not be able to afford, of finding a babysitter,” Quinn explained.

Not every activity at the camp has been a resounding success with attendees, Quinn acknowledged. One year, students learned how to make vegetable ice pops with a “particular focus on beets,” she recalled.

“That has been removed forever from the curriculum, because they were not a big hit at all,” she said. An ice-cream-making activity that teaches kids about chemical compounds, meanwhile, has remained on the syllabus.

While camp days are packed with educational activities, educators make sure they’re focusing on campers’ emotional well-beings as well, Ortiz noted.

“Most programs, people just ask the question, ‘How are you?’ But they very rarely ask how you’re feeling,” she said. “We want to make sure we understand how our children are feeling.”

Summers can be hard for homeless students — something the camp tries to mitigate.

“During this time, children can be very lost and very alone, because there isn’t a school connection for them,” Ortiz said. “I think it’s really valuable to know that they have a place they belong during the separation school.”