Amherst Splash Event Expands Class Offerings
Issue   |   Wed, 11/20/2013 - 01:20

This past Saturday, the College welcomed nearly 100 local teenagers to its campus for Splash, a daylong event during which college students teach classes to middle school and high school students. The event is one of many Splash programs held nationwide and is now in its third year at Amherst College.

For the students who attend, Splash represents an opportunity to spend a day learning about subjects not normally offered in their middle and high schools. Classes taught this semester included such nontraditional subjects as Comedic Impressions, Intro to Beat Boxing and Modular Origami. Also popular this semester were basic language classes in Japanese, Chinese and Greek, as well as classes on cooking and baking.

Splash, which began as a program at MIT, has since expanded to other U.S. colleges and universities, including Boston College, Stanford and the University of Chicago. Splash first came to Amherst in fall 2011, when members of the education club the EDU saw an opportunity to engage with the local community while pursuing their passion for education.
The group of original organizers has since graduated, but Splash lives on in the hands of the four sophomores who are spearheading the program this year.

“Splash is actually the only event hosted by Amherst that allows students to teach. We have tutoring services, but that’s different,” said Kiko Aebi ’16, explaining why she was eager to play a key role in organizing the event.

Aebi, who managed logistics for the program, was excited for the opportunity to teach a curriculum of her own design, especially given that she is contemplating a career in education. In addition to her work handling room reservations and coordinating with the Facilities Department, Aebi also taught a class that “aims to prove that art is not just a bunch of pseudo-intellectual nonsense,” according to the course description.

Another one of the organizers, Vera Zhao ’16, agreed that Splash offers a unique opportunity for Amherst students.
“I think it’s one of the few opportunities on campus that really allows for direct engagement with the community and for actual engagement in the surrounding area as well,” Zhao said.

Zhao co-taught a class on Nail Art for this Saturday’s Splash. She is also the treasurer for the program.

This year, this opportunity attracted more Amherst and Five College students than it has in any other year since Splash’s inception. Omar Pineda ’16, director of teacher recruitment, estimated that there were about 36 teachers at Saturday’s event. The teachers included mostly Amherst College students and one UMass student. Students from Smith College also helped to set up lunch and manage teacher registration.

Aebi noted that the high turnout was reflective of a widespread interest in education among Amherst students. According to the Career Center’s website, jobs in education are a more popular choice for recent Amherst graduates than jobs in any other field.

Even those who do not plan to go into the field of education often sign up for Splash out of a desire to give back to their community, as Janna Joassainte ’17, one of the teachers, attested.

“I decided to teach at Splash because I understand the impact a teacher has on a child’s life,” Joassainte said. “I always felt it was important to spread what I learn to those who also want to learn.”

Joassainte taught a class on hip hop dance, and she says she hopes to teach another Splash class next year.

Because of the high teacher turnout, the Splash organizers were able to offer more classes than ever this year. Students from as far as New York and New Hampshire were allowed to pick five out of the almost 40 classes offered. Most classes are capped at 20 to 25 students.

Joy Xu ’16, director of student recruitment, reported that 92 students attended this year, which marks the fourth Splash event at Amherst College. She attributes the program’s success in student recruitment to a growing awareness of more effective advertising techniques on the part of the organizers.

“This year we tried something new, and we actually went to the schools to present,” Xu said. “We’re definitely going to do that more in the future.”

For their part, Splash students have reported being excited by the classes offered and eager for more options.
“We’ve gotten really positive feedback from them,” Aebi said. “They really want to come back, but they’ve always asked for more classes.”

As part of their efforts to fulfill this desire, the organizers are now looking to recruit more teachers, as well as to extend Splash further into the Five College community. Next spring, Smith College will host a Splash event, and the Amherst College organizers are keen to offer their support. Just as Smith volunteers were on hand during the Amherst event, the Amherst organizing committee hopes to offer assistance during the day of Smith’s program in the spring. They are also sharing tips on the preparation work that is involved: Aebi says that she has outlined a sample budget for the Smith team, and the Amherst committee plans to help Smith by contacting potential teachers and offering advice on logistical issues they have experienced.

“Since it’s their first time we’re going to help them out in whatever way we can,” Pineda said.

“We’re really hoping to make this into a Five College event,” Aebi added. “Hopefully it’ll be something that switches between the two campuses.”