Summer camp transforms local children’s lives
July 18, 2013 By Mariel Smith
nesting dolls after learning about Ukraine earlier in the day.
Though Centre students are mostly away from campus at the moment, school is still in session for the group of 60 area school children enrolled in the After School Program Summer Camp at the Combs Center.
The camp represents a collaboration among multiple people whose organizations reach out to the Latino community: Chris Claunch, title III coordinator for Mercer County schools and chairperson of Centro Latino (a local organization dedicated to Latino education and acculturation); Genny Ballard, associate professor of Spanish at Centre College who has also been integral in Centro Latino's efforts; and Erin Howard, Hispanic outreach coordinator at Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) in Lexington, Ky.
Traditionally, the summer camp has been coordinated on campus with the help of the Governor's Scholars Program (GSP); however, this year GSP relocated to Morehead, Ky., leaving the Summer Camp in limbo.
"We knew it was up to us to make sure that a summer program existed," says Claunch.
A flurry of grant writing ensued, securing funding from the Centre Education Fellowship program. The funding covers staff wages, transportation costs and teaching materials. The camp is a continuation of Centro Latino and the Bonner Program's twice-weekly after-school program that gives students extra help with homework and a positive learning environment they might not have otherwise.
The camp runs July 8–19 and provides a full day of activities and lessons. Campers are picked up at 7:30 a.m. and transported to the Combs Center, where they receive breakfast and participate in three hours of academic work. This summer's project involves researching different countries around the world.
Lunch is also provided for campers, after which they participate in a mixture of arts and sports activities until they are taken home at 3 p.m. Thanks to grant funding and a government feeding program, the camp is free of charge for every single camper.
Though the camp is run by Latino outreach organizations, campers hail from countries as diverse as India, Taiwan, Thailand, China, Japan and Ethiopia.
to play soccer.
One of the Bonner Scholars who volunteered at the program during the school year is Anne-Ward Arbegust ’15; she is also one of the staff members for this year's camp, along with Clayton Brown ’14. For Arbegust, this program is vital in helping young people succeed academically.
"Every student needs an equal playing field," she explains. "This summer camp gives these kids the boost they need to be equal to their peers."
Eloise O'Neal, one of Claunch's coworkers and an ELL (English Language Learner) teacher at Mercer County schools, manages the academic portion of the camp. For her, the academic work is a huge help with acculturation and English language skills.
"Ten weeks is a long time to go without practicing English for these kids," O'Neal says, "especially when they often don't have parents at home speaking English. They go back to school in the fall and it's like everything is new again."
In addition to the valuable opportunity to learn and practice English, the classroom setting is a great transition for children new to the United States.
"We have about 10 kids here who have just arrived in the country," she explains. "They have no background in English and no community connections, so this camp is a great introduction to learning English as well as integrating with the community. When they go to school in a few weeks, they'll see some of the people they met at camp."
O'Neal works with campers every morning to build vocabulary and teach study skills; she also gives quizzes and assigns groups to work on collaborative projects related to researching the history and culture of different countries around the world.
The afternoon's craft activities tie into the morning academic work by offering children a chance to make culturally relevant crafts, such as Ukrainian nesting dolls or Venetian masks.
cultures they learn about each day.
The camp is especially important in keeping these students on track academically.
"The ultimate goal of the camp is to help prepare these kids for college," says Claunch. "Many of our kids aren't on grade-level with their reading, and if they aren't on grade-level now, they definitely won't be able to get into college later."
Academics are not the only important part of the camp; introducing students to community resources is also very important. A recent trip to the Boyle County Public Library familiarized students with the wealth of community resources available to them.
"We want to introduce these kids to experiences they've never had," Claunch says. "Things as simple as tie-dyeing a t-shirt or going to the Community Arts Center."
Arbegust particularly enjoys seeing students grow and progress.
"We have two specific students here this summer who were troublemakers during the school year," she says. "This summer they've grown so much—it's very rewarding to see their transformation into responsible, mature young people."
For Kara Beer ’12, one of the camp staff, the program is one link in a long chain of events connecting her to Danville's Latino community.
"As a student, I studied abroad in Merida, Mexico, both for a semester and for a CentreTerm internship," Beer explains. "Working with the people there gave me a whole new perspective on everything."
After graduating, Beer became Centre's Bonner Coordinator, where she became directly involved in the Bonner After School program and Summer Camp. For her, the summer program is just as much a gift to the Centre students and faculty who organize and run it as it is to the children who attend.
community, both in Danville and abroad. "I owe this new
passion and direction in my life to the kids and the summer
camp program," she says.
"I've always had a heart for the Hispanic community in Danville," she says. "This summer camp just emphasizes that. It's really humbling to see how things that are so small to me can be huge for them. I take away so much love and joy from this program."
Beer will be heading to University of Kentucky's law school this fall and traces the decision back to her time at Centre.
"Centre gave me all of these opportunities to travel and study abroad," she says. "Working and living abroad inspired me to work with the Hispanic community here in Danville.
"Having experienced living in a new country and trying to get your bearings, I can now relate to what new immigrants go through," she adds. "I want to help ease that transition for them."
All of this culminates in Beer's decision to attend law school and pursue a career in immigration law.
"I owe this new passion and direction in my life to the kids and the program," Beer says. "With all of the immigration reform that's going on, there will be a huge need for immigration lawyers, and I want to be there to help when the time comes."
Ultimately, the After School Program Summer Camp fulfills many needs in the community and represents a fruitful collaboration between the College and other community organizations. Above all, it highlights Centre's commitment to education and service, both for its students and those in the surrounding community.
For more information on Centro Latino and the After School Program, contact Chris Claunch at email@example.com.
Centre College, founded in 1819, is a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Danville, Ky. Centre hosted its second Vice Presidential Debate on 10.11.12, and remains the smallest college in the smallest town ever to host a general election debate. For more, click here.