Summer Camp on the West Side

Learning, Laughing, and Building Community

When I walked into Ms. C.'s classroom at West Side Community Services (WSCS) summer camp it was the first time I’d been in-person with a group of students in over a year. A few things about her room were different than might normally be the case: kids were seated at tables around the perimeter of the room, spread apart at safe distances, they were wearing masks, and everybody had their own personal bin of supplies. Despite the changes due to COVID-19, the overwhelming feeling that I had was relief - relief to be back among young people gathered together; enjoying learning, sharing laughter, and building community.

Ms. C.’s small group shared a number of characteristics with Buffalo Commons. For one thing, it was a diverse group of students who represent a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences - a cross section of our city’s wonderful diversity. Buffalo Commons does this intentionally; we understand that a diverse student body provides ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives that enrich the lives of all students. Furthermore, students working together toward shared goals can increase achievement and leadership skills and reduce bias. As we plan for our exciting launch next year, we are creating curriculum and learning experiences to facilitate these shared goals and connect students at deeper levels of culture.

A second thing that jumped out to me was how the camp’s program, provided in conjunction with Say Yes to Education, emphasized the importance of serving the whole child. The daily schedule for Ms. C’s group - who range in age between four and seven - includes a large amount of physical activity and play, literacy time where books are read aloud and campers read silently, a math-literacy section of the day, as well as many exciting field trips. On the day I was there, the group was headed to Canalside for a ride on the carousel and to learn about the historically accurate replica of a canal boat that’s being built by the Maritime Center in the new longhouse.

Buffalo Commons shares this emphasis on a developmentally appropriate schedule. Our school day includes ample time for community building and physical activity alongside compelling academics. We have morning and afternoon class meetings to build community, recess and choice time each day because play and physical activity are essential to child development, and our academic program focuses on making learning matter by connecting what students do in the classroom to what is actually happening in our community. At Commons, building on a strong core curriculum, our lessons bring challenges faced by the community into the classroom. Students make connections between their surroundings and their studies, helping them develop a sense of self and the confidence to make an impact in their community.

Although our connection began through the summer camp, it has been exciting to learn about the variety of services WSCS provides to their community. WSCS offers education, arts, wellness, and prevention programs for young children, families, school-age kids and teens, adults, and senior citizens living on Buffalo’s West Side. They works to ensure the well-being of a vibrant and dynamic West Side by engaging, supporting and connecting its residents. Buffalo Commons will continue to support the work the WSCS is doing in their summer camp as well as their wide array of programming to serve the surrounding neighborhoods. For more information and to get involved, you can reach out directly to the folks at WSCS by sending an email to


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