Making a Difference

Public service programs help out Cambridge kids

With three claps of her hands, Shilpa M. Jain '98 silenced the 30 screaming children who just seconds earlier were running around the Currier House Dance Studio.

"If you can hear me, clap once," Jain began. "If you can hear me now, clap twice."

Jain and the five other Harvard students spread throughout the studio are teachers in CityStep, an organization that teaches dance-theater to Cambridge fifth-and sixth-graders.

CityStep is just one of many programs that link undergraduates with children from Cambridge public schools.

Harvard students volunteer to teach everything from literacy to conflict resolution. They also spend time developing relationships as mentors and as big siblings.


With the financial, intellectual and human resources of an institution like Harvard, one would assume that the University has a tremendous impact on the Cambridge community. Problems arise, however, in trying to measure that impact.

Relationships built between students and volunteers can't be measured by standardized test scores. But to Cambridge students, teachers, parents and Harvard volunteers alike, the relationship between the University and the Cambridge public schools benefits all participants.

Harvard student volunteers provide tangible benefits to public school students, says Vicki Solomon, director of elementary placement at Cambridge School Volunteers Inc. (CSV).

"Harvard volunteers play a very important part of our overall program," Solomon says. "Teachers come to rely on them for support and for giving individual attention to students."

CSV is the clearinghouse for volunteers in Cambridge public schools, including Cambridge citizens and students from MIT and other area colleges.

About a third of the 1,000 volunteers are from Harvard. The majority of Harvard students volunteer through programs like ExperiMentors and the House And Neighborhood Development Program (HAND).

A Helping HAND

"One of HAND's primary goals is to foster better relationships with the neighborhood, and it does so by doing public service in Cambridge schools," says Kevin C. Chien '98, the Pforzheimer House HAND coordinator.

HAND provides volunteers at various elementary schools in Cambridge. Each House is partnered with an area of Cambridge and an elementary school within that neighborhood.

Twelve tutors from Pforzheimer volunteer at the M.E. Fitzgerald Elementary School's After-School Learning Center.