What’s New with U? – Week 5

The sun only made a few fleeting appearances during the fifth week, but we found other ways to brighten our days with fun, art, and adventure.

We welcomed the latest crop of two-week campers for the final stretch of the summer. We raised the new handmade Usdan flag in the name of community and camaraderie. And we enjoyed incredible performances from students and guest performers alike.

Here are some of the sights and sounds from around the Campus this week.




My imaginary friend’s name is Lola…Becki…Emily…Zack…Alien Space Kid…Pinkalicious…Blue— because he’s a blue jay…–Discovery students talking about their imaginary friends as part of the three-year experimental art project with Usdan’s first-ever Artist-in-Residence, Pedro Lasch.



I’ve been going to Usdan for the past eight years, and every year, I’ve taken Chess as one of my classes. It has been a major factor in my development as a player, as well as an opportunity to practice and improve my game. I’ve learned many new tactics and strategies over the years — all of which have only helped me get better.

Students at Usdan are friendly and have passion for playing the game. Teachers will eagerly help you review games from tournaments, teach new openings, or if you aren’t interested in those things, you can also just play other varieties of chess — like Bughouse or Loser’s Chess.  And, if you want to be like Harry Potter and play with giant chess pieces, you can do that too. I love it here.   — Dylan

Read other personal essays from this year’s Chess students here.


TEACHING U: Meet the Recreation Department

Whether it’s in the pool, on the pitches, platforms, or playgrounds of our beautiful 140-acre home, Usdan’s Recreation program continues to be an essential part of the camp experience and a sure-fire way to infuse the season with energy and fun. For this week’s “Teaching U,” we caught up with three members of the Rec crew to share their thoughts on sports, skills, and summer activities.

First up: Usdan Aquatics Director Grainne Josaphat. Born and schooled in Ireland, Grainne lives in the States with her husband and two sons. An educator, athlete, trainer, and coach, Grainne loves the outdoors and eating healthy. And even in the off-season, she can often be found by or in the water.

Q1: How has being an athlete/sports practitioner helped you as an educator and how has being an educator helped you as an athlete/sports practitioner?

I consider any place a place of learning and teaching. Whether it’s in the classroom or on the water, all we need is to have an open ear to hear from our students and our peers. What we learn at Usdan in the water are life skills — not just about swimming, but how to take risks and be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. The discipline and practice of the classroom and the pool also help me to be a better educator.

Q2: What are you most excited about this summer?

This is my fourth year at Usdan, and every year, it just gets better and better. The staff is amazing; the campers are wonderful. We have a true sense of family and community around here.

Excitement starts the minute I approach the yellow walls of the Usdan campus and drive up through the tree-lined driveway. When I reach the pool, it’s an open paradise with blue water, surrounded by nature, and seeing familiar faces, campers, staff, newcomers, visitors, and parents. I love it when people come and visit the pool.

It’s the great staff around me who make me look good. We all work together as a team and get the job done. Keeping the swimmers safe, learning, challenged, and having a good time.

Q3: What’s your favorite Usdan “U”?

The blue wave of course — metaphorically and literally. The waves of the blue water; the ebb and flow of the water; the refreshment of the water. It speaks to me. It soothes my soul. It rejuvenates. I’d like to spread the word and invite all to come experience THE BLUE.

Next on the field: Steve Ficurilli. This is his second year as a Quidditch instructor at Usdan.

He recently graduated from CUNY/Macaulay Honors College where he served as two-time captain and four-year player for the school’s Quidditch team, the Macaulay Maurauders. The Long Island native also played the sport professionally as part of Major League Quidditch’s New York Titans. He was also just featured in a video about our program on Newsday.com.

Q1: How has being an athlete/sports practitioner helped you as an educator and how has being an educator helped you as an athlete/sports practitioner?

Being a sports practitioner involves a learning process — and that translates directly into becoming an educator. Everyone has had a mentor or coach, no matter what sport or field of study, that helped them get to where they are today. The skills I honed and the experiences I gained throughout my years within the sport join together with lessons I’ve learned from coaches, captains, and mentors.

Being an educator also really helps with my ability to play the sport. You often learn just as much, if not more, than you teach. Sometimes simplifying complex ideas and drills, and creating analogies to help students who wouldn’t otherwise understand, helps simplify and bring new purpose to the parts of the sport for me. Also, each student brings his or her own talents and intricacies to the sport. I get to observe these details and develop them, and then sometimes even utilize them myself when the time comes.

Q2: What are you most excited about this summer?

Every year at Usdan, I get most excited about the Quidditch tournament. This year we are lucky enough to have two — and, after the fourth week tournament was so successful, I can’t wait for the seventh week showcase.These kids get better and better everyday, and it’s an amazing feeling to see all their hard work and energy come out during a big match with spectators and fans.

Q3: What’s your favorite Usdan U?

My favorite Usdan U is the music stave. I’ve played many instruments in my life, and music continues to inspire me. However, if there was a Quidditch U, it would definitely be my favorite.

Finally, keeping everyone centered: Yoga teacher Deanna Green. Deanna is a yoga instructor and writer based in Brooklyn. She fell in love with language and the arrangement of words at an early age and has been writing ever since. And, although she graduated with a degree in chemistry from Long Island University, she was called to serve the community. Deanna currently provides yoga to adults, youth, and under-served communities throughout New York City.

Q1: How has being a yoga practitioner helped you as an educator and how has being an educator helped you as a yoga practitioner?

As a writer and yoga practitioner, I am able to explore different methods of communications, mindfulness and compassion. All these tools are essential when teaching a room full of children. I’m able to draw on my experiences and my own practice to engage and motivate my students. On the flip side, I learn so much from my students! They push me to explore, investigate, and grow in my own craft.

Q2: What are you most excited about this summer?

I’m most excited about teaching and practicing yoga on this beautiful yoga platform. Everyday, we are surrounded by a range of wildlife from the tall trees to the little ant. Nature provides daily inspiration for our own lives, and it serves as a valuable teaching point in mindfulness, compassion, and non-harming behaviors.

I’m also really excited to see our students showcase their hard work and talent in the assembly. I look forward to their performances everyday!

Q3: What’s your favorite Usdan U?

My favorite Usdan U would have to be the rainbow U. It shows that all are welcome, all are capable, and that all of us are amazing, just as we are!



“Artistic growth is a mystery; at Usdan we try to create the atmosphere that encourages it.”

-Andrew McKinley, Usdan Founding Executive Director, 1968-1983

As a unique and always-evolving institution of arts education, we constantly aim to push the boundaries as we inspire, educate, and challenge young artists. We consider it our duty to remain contemporary and relevant and support that same innovative spirit among Usdan students.

We encourage students to take opportunities to develop and express themselves without fear of failure. We believe that curiosities must never be diminished and that there is much to learn from experimentation.

The ultimate goal: Create a cohesive environment that encourages young people to remain artists in every endeavor throughout their lives.

Our core creative principles—derived from nearly 50 years of experience—inform our curriculum and the opportunities we avail for students. They include:

  • SKILLS: Building cognitive, conceptual, technical, and physical abilities for mind and body growth
  • PLAY: Fostering joy, exploration, and experimentation every day
  • COMMUNITY: Encouraging friendships, collaborations, and sharing work throughout the creative process
  • NATURE: Using nature as a door to creativity and expression
  • ARTIST COLLABORATORS: Working hands-on with adults to create relevant contemporary art, while messing with the traditional hierarchy between youth and adults
  • DIVERSITY: Embracing and learning from total diversity of artistic ability, learning style, physical ability, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, and age
  • VOICE: Giving children the agency to harness their voice and creativity
  • DESIGN: Creating frameworks, structures, and schedules that support all principles.

Those principles sit at the center of the camp experience. They come through in lessons, experiments, collaborations and performances. Eventually they inform our students’ worldview year-round.

A summer at Usdan not only develops a child’s skills or artistry, but their ability to explore, experiment and create fearlessly. Our goal: Give children immense opportunity, no matter their interest or passion, to discover their potential and their own creative genius.

Share your feedback us at questions@usdan.org.

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