An Interview with Liz Lemire, Director of OCYL
Please tell us about your program.
OCYL, the Office of Children, Youth, and Learning, offers educational programs to expand opportunities for children to learn and achieve. Our mission is to help foster a comprehensive learning environment for children in the first two decades of their lives while promoting civic engagement. Our goal is for every Cumberland child to become a skilled learner with a creative mind who achieves to his or her fullest potential.
We offer programs at our location on the monastery grounds, adjacent to the public library, playground, and walking trails. Classes in the visual, musical, and literary arts; chess; math; robotics; Spanish; SAT prep; and science are offered year round. Summer learning programs include a Leadership Academy for middle- and high-school students interested in civics and becoming members of the Cumberland Youth Commission.
While the majority of participants are Cumberland residents, students from surrounding areas are welcome to participate. Cumberland residents who qualify for free/reduced lunch attend programs for free, making the program more accessible to those who would otherwise not have enrichment opportunities.
What drew you to the afterschool/youth development field?
I was fortunate to grow up near a major city in the Midwest and saw education as the number one priority–all education: arts, sciences, field trips, college prep, afterschool, and in-school. While I was working in the nonprofit arts field for more than a decade, I realized that young people were not getting the breadth of education I was fortunate enough to receive. In addition, working with young artists trying to make a living, I saw their need for more support and encouragement and ways to connect with the community.
By the time I had children of my own, schools everywhere were drastically reducing in-school and even afterschool programs. Linking the arts with literacy became a natural connection for me as a parent, visual artist, and educator, so I took a position working with children and families at the town library. From there, my desire to teach and administrate programs returned. Ultimately I was offered the position here at OCYL to lead the way for other teachers to support and encourage children, no matter what subject they are learning.
What excites you most about working in an afterschool setting?
OCYL’s Early Childhood Programs recently made their way “home” here in our main location. Seeing the children with excited, happy faces during the day and having time to connect with them and their parents is truly gratifying. Afterschool, kids who have had a long day in traditional classrooms spark energy into our “home” and give so much back to us as teachers and administrators the moment they walk in the door.
What’s coming up for your program?
We are currently expanding and will be offering more programs for middle- and high-school students as part of the Cumberland Youth Commission programming. These youth are providing guidance as to the kinds of classes they want to see offered here at OCYL, especially in the new “youth room” that will serve as a temporary location as they work toward a student center for the community.
In addition, the OCYL is leading an “education pledge” in which we ask every Cumberland family to commit to education as a priority in their home, reminding them that every part of the day counts: in school, after school, and even vacations. We will also be reaching out to other organizations and businesses to become part of what we hope will be the “calling card” for Cumberland: a great place to get a fantastic education–in school and after school!
What are your interests beyond afterschool?
Beyond afterschool, OCYL offers weekday programming for Early Childhood (in literacy, math, and music) and Home School groups. These programs, along with the Youth Commission, are integral for our success in reaching as many children in Cumberland as possible. Collaborations with more local organizations and the public school are closer to realization than ever before in our five year history.
On a personal note, I’m interested in participating with other organizations such as BAAM (Because Art Always Matters), the PTO, and am currently a panelist with the RI State Council on the Arts. I love attending arts festivals and gallery shows with my family, making art with my daughters, taking my Girl Scouts on trips, and playing with my big silly dog Lucy who inspires me to stay young.