S’mores are usually a campfire food, but at P.S. 96 in East Harlem, students are getting ready to cook them in a new way.

“They're doing a solar-powered oven, so they had a challenge,” teacher Dayrin Barrios said. “Their task was to come up with a way to heat food up without using electricity or gas. So we're working with s’mores. Hopefully it works.”

Barrios is one of the hundreds of teachers skipping summer vacation this year to help staff Summer Rising, the free city program aimed at helping students get back on track ahead of the fall.

What You Need To Know

  • Some schools struggled to find the staff for the city's new Summer Rising program

  • But at P.S. 96 in East Harlem, Dayrin Barrios was eager to spend her summer in the classroom

  • Barrios guided students through creating a "solar-powered" oven to make s'mores

  • The program is aimed at helping children catch up academically, and have some fun, before school fully reopens in the fall

Some schools have struggled to staff up their programs, leading to headaches for principals and frustration for parents whose children only got seats at the last minute. But for Barrios, spending the summer with her fourth-grade students was a no-brainer.

“It's a nice way to get kids back that haven't been in school. In all honesty, I'm not regretting it. I'm having so much fun with them. They show up, they're here -- you see them, they're involved, they like working together. So it's been just a really fun summer,” she said.

The day is split between academics and recreation, but even while she's working to prepare them for a full return to school this September, Barrios and her students still manage to have fun.

“We made our own curriculum this year, for Summer Rising, so we were able to kind of look at what skills kids needed for next year. We work very closely with the next year's teachers as well, so we also spoke about, you know, what skills do they need for fifth grade?” Barrios said.

And several of the children in her class are back at school for the first time since March of 2020, after more than a year of remote learning.

“Working with groups is nice. It kind of gives a sense of normalcy again. It's been nice that they get to work together,” she said.

The students assemble their ovens out of cardboard boxes, with tools like aluminum foil and plastic wrap.

One group even gives their oven a name: The Supernova. The goal is for the chocolate and marshmallows to melt when the oven is placed outside in the sun.

Fourth grader Isaiah, through a mouth full of graham crackers, is confident in his creation.

“I don’t think it’s going to work, I know it’s going to work,” he said.

When every oven is finished, he gets to test that theory in the school’s rooftop garden.

“I think it’s melting already,” he observed.