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Perspective | Davie County students enjoy summer enrichment camps thanks to Mebane Foundation

Sitting cross-legged on the library floor, Madison Sandy carefully examined the blueprint on the iPad in front of her before selecting the corresponding Legos to add to her remote control car. Soon the rising fifth-grader was gleefully maneuvering it in a circle in front of her, experiencing that math and science are fun.

Madison Sandy builds a lego car during the robotics on-site field trip by Bricked. Courtesy of Jeanna Baxter White

Flexible funding means the learning doesn’t end

School may have been out for the summer, but that doesn’t mean that learning in Davie County ended. More than 180 rising kindergartners through fifth graders attended summer programs funded by a $122,000 grant from the Mebane Foundation, located in Mocksville.   

“Students missed months of face-to-face instruction this spring due to coronavirus restrictions and are heading into an uncertain school year this fall,” said Larry Colbourne, president of the Foundation. “It was important to the Foundation to support enrichment opportunities to help reduce learning loss. Normally those funds supplement state funding for Davie’s summer Read to Achieve Camp; but since the Department of Instruction canceled that requirement for this summer, the money was available to fund other programs.”

Overcoming limitations to provide engaging summer enrichment camps

Davie County Schools (DCS) reallocated the funds towards five-week summer enrichment camps for rising first through fifth graders at Cooleemee and Cornatzer, since they were the sites of the summer feeding program, and kinder camps for rising kindergartners at all six elementary schools.

Jennifer Lynde, chief academic officer for DCS, appreciated the Foundation’s flexibility. “We are in very difficult times that require us to adapt and make decisions, unlike any in the past. The support of the Mebane Foundation allows us to make decisions better aligned with the needs of children and not strictly funding.

“Between North Carolina’s COVID-19 guidelines and minimal time to plan, we didn’t think we would be able to have any kind of in-person camp this year. Most districts around us were only able to offer virtual camps,” she said.

Colbourne put her in touch with Imprints Cares in Winston-Salem, which offers kindergarten readiness programs for children ages birth to 5, and expanded learning programs, including summer enrichment day camps, for elementary school students. Since Imprints Cares already had a curriculum in place for its summer camps in Forsyth County as well as social distancing and cleaning protocols developed through offering crisis child care, he thought they would be the perfect partner to operate an enrichment camp in Davie County. 

After meeting with Claudia Barrett, executive director, and Betty West, director of expanded learning services, DCS officials hired Imprints Cares to provide all logistics — including hiring, curriculum, before and after camp care, and day-to-day management. 

With only three weeks to prepare, DCS instructional coaches quickly assembled lists of students they felt would benefit from the camp. Then it was opened up to all rising third and fourth graders.

Neither camp ended up filled to capacity. Lynde attributed it to the camp being optional, the school system not being able to provide transportation due to coronavirus restrictions at the time, the short notice, and parents already making other arrangements, as well as some parental concerns about face-to-face interactions.

Partnership allows teachers to focus on students

Imprints Cares handled the hiring, offering the positions first to RtA Camp staffers and then to other interested  DCS staff. Twenty-five DCS employees worked at least one week of camp. Imprints Cares staff members Brigett Quillen and Kelly Hudnall served as site supervisors to handle daily operations so that the teachers could focus on the students and academics.  

No one entered the building without first being pre-screened and having their temperature checked. All adults wore masks, although students were not required to do so based on the state’s child care and summer camp guidelines. A strict hand washing policy was enforced and areas were deep-cleaned after each group of students rotated through. Everyday items like hula hoops and pool noodles were used to demonstrate safe distancing.

“We had a lot of great lessons on how to integrate children back into the classroom safely,” said Shannon Heck, Imprints Cares director of development and marketing.

Half of the day was devoted to academics — math, writing, reading, and phonics using Heggerty, a phonemic-awareness program that aligns with the science of reading.  Each week had a different theme: The Not So Secret Life of Pets, Full STEAM Ahead, Where the Wild Things Are, Goin’ to Carolina in My Mind, and Survivor.

The other half focused on STEAM-based enrichment activities incorporating math, science, reasoning, and logic, which were aligned with the week’s topic such as an egg drop design contest during Full STEAM Ahead. 

Additionally, campers were treated to three onsite field trips: birds of prey from Allison Outdoor Wilderness Center, a robotics camp by Bricked where students assembled and maneuvered Lego-based remote-controlled cars, and an outdoor fun day complete with a drenching courtesy of the Cooleemee and Cornatzer fire departments.

“We wanted there to be good social-emotional interaction, the academic piece, and just some good old-fashioned summer camp fun,” Heck explained.  

Crystal Phillips, a first/second grade teacher’s assistant at Pinebrook Elementary, taught math at Cornatzer. She considered the camp to be extremely valuable for the students who participated.

“We all know that children tend to backslide in the summer months from one grade to the next. I feel these kids and most of the others at home may experience more learning loss this year than prior summers because of the last quarter being taught remotely. I’m not sure I’ve taught anything new but I do hope I have rekindled the information they already know and made it fun for them in class. Imprints Cares was wonderful. We all have our individual responsibilities but we all filled in where we are needed any given day. As they say, ‘Teamwork makes the dream work.’” 

Lynde echoed her sentiments, saying: “Imprints Cares was wonderful to work with. They were very professional and responsive and open to working with us on the curriculum. I was particularly impressed with the way they handled COVID guidelines to ensure the safety of both students and staff.”

Acclimating little learners with kinder camp

While the enrichment camps sought to decrease summer learning loss, the kinder camps had a different set of goals — teaching rising kindergartners how to social distance, wash their hands, treat others the way they would want to be treated, and most importantly, become comfortable with the school setting.

Colbourne and I stopped by Pinebrook Elementary to observe. As we entered the building, kindergarten teacher Julie Holt was teaching an important life lesson. “Are things always going to be our way?” she asked. The nine little campers responded with a resounding “No!” Holt went on to explain the Golden Rule, saying, “You have to treat other people the way you want to be treated.”

“The purpose of kinder camp is to get the children acclimated to school,” Holt explained. “They get the chance to learn to get along and to socialize which benefits them a lot. They also learn how to get around the school so that they aren’t scared. We talk a lot about what the first day will be like so that they will be more comfortable with it. If they are more comfortable with it their parents are going to be more comfortable with it.”

“Although I do at least one academic activity each day, I focus more on getting them socially ready to enter the kindergarten world. If you can get them socially and behaviorally ready, the academic piece will come,” she said.

As we followed the children to the classroom, Holt had them swing their arms back and forth. “If you can touch your neighbor, you are too close,” she said.

Back in the classroom, Holt told the students that each of them was special and unique and had their own name which was made up of letters. Pointing to a white board bearing each name, she helped them count the letters. Then they traced their names on paper using bingo daubers. 

“Kinder camp gives us the opportunity to bond with our students and to instill in them the love of learning and a love for school. I think it is a fabulous thing that we can offer this camp and we appreciate it,” she told Colbourne with a smile.

Editor’s note: The Mebane Foundation supports the work of EducationNC.

Jeanna White
Jeanna White is a writer for the Mebane Charitable Foundation in Mocksville. Ten years as a substitute teacher for students from preschool through high school has given her a unique perspective and passion for education. White graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism.